OCBC Cycle: Australian expat aims to ride 5,000km in a year to raise funds for Aidha

Andrew Smith plans to cycle 5,000km in a year to raise $2,500 to support the education programs of foreign domestic workers through NGO Aidha. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - When the circuit breaker was enforced in Singapore last year, like many others, Australian expatriate Andrew Smith was stuck alone at home with nowhere to go.

At that point in time, he was going through a rough patch in his relationship and his company was undergoing restructuring. He had also not seen his family in about two years. All this added to his feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Wanting a change, he decided to get back into cycling - an old past-time that he had let slip due to his constant relocation for work across countries - as a way to get out of the house as well as to improve his physical and mental well-being. When he first started, he covered up to 50km a week. Now, he averages about 150km a week and often goes on round-island rides.

On one of his round-island trips with a group of friends late last year, he got to know about non-profit organisation Aidha through a friend.

Aidha aims to help foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women achieve economic independence. It offers courses in money management, wealth creation and entrepreneurship, as well as elective courses that help domestic workers improve their English. The classes run every Sunday of the month (except for the fifth Sunday), from 10am to 5pm.

Due to the pandemic, lessons have shifted online.

This sharing prompted him to reflect on how he would often see groups of foreign domestic workers gathering at East Coast Park to enjoy their day off during his rides on Sundays. Realising that while he misses his family, he is more fortunate than the domestic workers in a sense that even without the pandemic, being away from their families is "a constant" for them.

The 40-year-old, who works in marketing operations at French advertising company Criteo, said: "As I was feeling isolated during the circuit breaker, it got me thinking a lot more about the domestic workers in Singapore, who sacrifice so much for their family. They give up so much of their time, and while not earning a lot of money, they still send it back home to support their families.

"It is a privilege for families in Singapore to have them here, and also a privilege for domestic workers to be able to support their families... It is important that we appreciate the contributions that they make."

In order to raise awareness about Aidha and its cause, Smith has set himself a challenge of completing 5,000km and raising $2,500 by the end of the year. As the cost of delivering a full course to one student is $500, he also hopes that his efforts will be able to support five Aidha students.

Embarking on his 5,000km journey since February, he has been hoping that Singapore's borders would open so that he can go on "longer and more diverse rides" outside of Singapore, instead of his usual round-island trips. But with the recent tightening of Covid-19 measures, he is content with his usual routes to Sentosa or East Coast Park, and is also eager to explore other routes around the island.

Despite the daunting challenge, Smith is no stranger to endurance sport. Having completed three marathons in the past, he believes that as long as he sticks to a "strict routine" of about 1,000km a month, he will be able to achieve his goal by the end of the year without much trouble, and perhaps cover an even longer distance.

And his efforts in The Straits Times Virtual Ride (23km) in this year's OCBC cycle- which he has already completed - will count towards this. The OCBC Cycle's virtual rides will take place between May 15 and June 13, where participants must complete the required distance in four rides or less.

Looking ahead, Smith hopes to continue his fundraising efforts with Aidha, and has also signed up for a mentorship programme at Aidha in June to further help the students there. He added: "Supporting Aidha is something that I am definitely behind. I hope to continue riding to help Aidha and their students, and that my support can be ongoing."

In terms of his cycling journey, he is currently training for a half-Ironman triathlon, and hopes to complete a full Ironman in the future.

To find out more about his campaign or donate, visit this website. His fund-raising campaign runs till Dec 31.

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