Impact Journalism Day 2014: Adventure lovers combine trekking and charity work

Trash covered the ground in the slums of New Smokey Mountain, which used to be a landfill. -- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN
Trash covered the ground in the slums of New Smokey Mountain, which used to be a landfill. -- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN
The Trek For Hope team distributed food to people living in the slums of New Smokey Mountain. -- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN
The Trek For Hope team descending Mount Pulag, the second highest point in the Philippines. -- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN 
The Trek For Hope team setting up camp at the peak of Mount Pulag in the Philippines.-- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN
The Trek For Hope, Philippines 2014 team at the summit of Mount Pulag in the Philippines. -- PHOTO: SIMON CHAN

Consultant Simon Chan wanted to help the poor while doing what he loved - trekking.

So he decided to form Trek For Hope, a social initiative which organises overseas trekking trips and incorporates charity work into it.

The members of Trek For Hope are from the Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers (SANL) meet-up group, one of the largest outdoor adventure group in Singapore that was set up in February 2009. It has more than 6,000 members.

Mr Chan, who is an event organiser for SANL and also a travel blogger, set up Trek For Hope in November 2013 to rally together like-minded Singapore-based adventurers "to explore the less-trodden path our nation and other countries".

The 40-year-old wrote to the Straits Times as part of Impact Journalism Day, after reading about it on the ST Facebook page.

Impact Journalism Day is an annual event where the Straits Times and 39 other newspapers around the world run stories on people, projects and ideas that have or could make a different to the people around them. This year, it will be on Sep 20.

The Straits Times is calling for readers to send in their ideas to have a chance to be featured in the newspaper.

So far, about 30 people have sent in their entries. They include an 11-year-old Singaporean boy's invention that allows easy cleaning of the exterior of a window in a high-rise building; and Project Inspire, a global competition created by the Singapore Committee for United Nations Women that allows young people to pitch ideas to create a better world for women and girls in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Mr Chan first posted about Trek For Hope on the SANL website in Nov last year, and 42 people signed up for its inaugural trip to the Philippines.

"Before we left, we met up every two weeks for meals to get to know each other, and also to train and build up our stamina by trekking in the Mandai area," he said.

Each participant paid $150 on top of their own flight and expenses, which went to purchasing basic necessities and food for the underprivileged residents of New Smokey Mountain.

After four months of planning, Trek For Hope's trip was finally made last month.

The group of 42 people, which consisted of Singaporeans, Malaysians and Australians, arrived in Manila on Mar 15, 2014. The flight was followed by an eight-hour coach ride to Baguio City. There, the group trekked up Mount Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines, at 2,922m above sea level.

They camped overnight on Mount Pulag and witnessed the sunrise before their descent - but this was just the beginning of their journey.

After taking a coach back to Manila, they made their way to New Smokey Mountain, which used to be a large landfill, but was cleared decades ago and became the site of public housing for impoverished people.

Residents built shelters which they call home, while being surrounded by rotting trash and the smell of smoke. The poor comb through the rubbish to salvage anything that can possibly be sold for a few pesos.

Trek For Hope roped in the help of Singapore couple Ivan and Maureen Ho who set up Oikos Helping Hand, a non-profit organisation which aims to help the poor in the Philippines.

The group distributed food and visited families and were shocked to find so much trash that they could not see the ground they were walking on.

"This journey touched our hearts in many ways. Until the next time we meet, our thoughts remain with those who provide help every day and with those who need help each day," said Mr Chan.

Trek For Hope plans to have quarterly charity treks to Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

"The next one will be to either Thailand or Cambodia before the end of the year," Mr Chan said.

Do you have an inspiring story or project to share? Tell us at by May 16. If your idea interests us or our partner newspapers, we will contact you.

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