Slip on a pair of slippers and race for charity

Slipper Race aims to help Cambodian, Viet kids with no footwear

FORMER naval officer Terence Quek wants you to put on a pair of slippers and walk 3km with him.

He is one of the founding members of Project Happy Feet, a non-profit group that provides footwear, schooling and job training for poor children in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The group is gearing up for its first-ever 'Slipper Race', to be held on Nov 13. The 'race' aims to involve 3,000 participants walking in their flip-flops along a 3km stretch of East Coast Park.

The footwear and distance are not merely incidental.

'It's to remind participants that there are kids in Cambodia and

Vietnam who have to do this walk to school in slippers every day - and sometimes they don't even have the slippers or the school,' said the 36-year-old, who co-owns communications agency Caelan & Sage with fellow Project Happy Feet founder Deborah Chew, 35.

The non-profit group was started in 2007 when Ms Chew and her friend Grace Chia, 39, went on a holiday to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they did a little volunteering as well. They took 20 pairs of slippers to a school there, where almost the whole class of 40 to 50 children did not have shoes.

'My heart sank as I saw how the children took turns to try to fit their feet into the slippers. If they fit, they got the pair,' recalled Ms Chew. 'I couldn't bear to see the faces of those whose feet didn't fit.'

They decided that their involvement with those children would not end there, and came up with Project Happy Feet.

The Slipper Race is the organisation's most ambitious fund-raising project yet, said Mr Quek. The group aims to raise $150,000 from the event - all of which will go towards helping underprivileged children in Cambodia, Vietnam and at home.

In fact, 80 per cent of that amount - or $120,000 - will go to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. This is in accordance with a stipulation by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports that any fund-raising done locally must primarily benefit local charities, said Mr Quek.

The group had originally wanted to raise $15,000 each for the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the organisation This Life in Siem Reap.

With the stipulation, rather than shrinking their original targets for the organisations, the team decided to raise its fund-raising goals.

'We may not hit it, but it doesn't matter,' said Mr Quek. 'We created awareness, and hopefully it gets easier each year.'

He hopes that the stipulation on local fund-raising can be reviewed.

'We understand that... but we all volunteer with local causes, and Project Happy Feet is the one thing we are doing to support the international community,' he said.

'We really hope we can find a better way to do this, because the volunteering and philanthropy scene in Singapore is changing.'

The group also has plans to export its Slipper Race across the world.

'We are talking to other non-governmental organisations around the world about this. We want to replicate the Slipper Race in one city on every continent,' said Mr Quek, adding that they were already in serious talks about holding races in Paris and Seoul.

He said one important element to keep in the event, even as it is exported, is its inclusivity.

'It's non-competitive for a reason. People can come in wheelchairs and on crutches. And the slippers become something symbolic,' he said. 'We want all children to go to school with happy feet.'

Registration costs $35 and closes on Tuesday. For more information, and to register online, visit www.phfslipperrace.org

jennanid@sph.com.sg

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