Swiss 'hero' walks across thousands of miles to raise charity for children in Philippines

WVR - After walking 13,000km from Switzerland to Vietnam, Thomas Kellenberger stopped in Hanoi to share his story last week.
Cảm động tấm chân tình ‘người hùng Thụy Sĩ’ với hành trình hàng vạn dặm gây quỹ cho trẻ em Philippines. (Ảnh: Hạnh Lê)
Swiss Ambassador to Vietnam Thomas Gass introduced Thomas Kellenberger in a press conference last week in Hanoi. (Photo: Hanh Le)

Since August 25 2021, Thomas Kellenberger - a Swiss citizen, left his hometown to start the 15,000 km journey to the Philippines called "Kuya Thom Goes Home". By walking thousands of miles, he wants to raise money for the charity Island Kids Philippines (IKP) in Cagayan de Oro city in Philippines, which he founded in 2007.

After going through many forests and deserts of more than 20 countries, Kellenberger stopped in Vietnam from March 21-25, before flying over the Philippines and ending the journey in May 2023.

To be predestined with the Philippines

In 2006, at the invitation of a friend at the Philippine Embassy in Switzerland, Thomas Kellenberger - a policeman at that time, travelled to the Southeast Asian country.

He was so surprised to see many homeless children on the streets of the Philippines, including those who have to work and go to landfills to collect trash.

“While eating by the beach, a local resident invited me to use child prostitution services. I was really shocked,” he said. Right on that trip, he and his friends rescued four girls and helped them with the money they had.

Returning to Switzerland, he decided to quit his job and started to set up a charity fund, as well as call for donations for children in need, especially the ones who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Philippines.

At that time, many people tried to stop him except his mother - Mrs. Ruth Kellenberger, who believed and supported this decision. Since 2007, Kellenberger and his mother have established and gradually developed the IKP charity organization in Cagayan de Oro city, Philippines.

After 10 years, he brought his mother back to his hometown for cancer treatment. Before passing away in 2020, Mrs. Ruth Kellenberger returned to visit Cagayan de Oro one last time and took pride in the achievements of the IKP organization after nearly 15 years: Building two schools and a big home for more than 1,000 Filipino children. In particular, IKP cooperates with local authorities to teach and provide psychological social intervention for more than 80 children.

Kellenberger shared that it was his mother who inspired him to start the 15,000km journey in 2021 to return to the Philippines - his second home. At the same time, he realized that, after the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of children facing difficulties was increasing, while IKP was still a small charity.

The year 2021 is the right time to "make some noise" and raise awareness about the importance of child protection. “The purpose of my trip is not to set a record… I go because there are kids waiting for me at the end of the road”, he said.

Cảm động tấm chân tình ‘người hùng Thụy Sĩ’ với hành trình hàng vạn dặm gây quỹ cho trẻ em Philippines. (Ảnh: Hạnh Lê)
Thomas Kellenberger talked about his walking experience thoughout last 20 months. (Photo: Hanh Le)

An arduous journey

As a nature lover and mountaineer, this man chose the more challenging route to conquer even the high peaks, instead of going on the flat roads.

Carrying a 20kg backpack with the necessary luggage, Kellenberger traversed the Alps from Switzerland to Slovenia, through the Balkan mountains, the mountains of Georgia and Tajikistan, from the Ladakh mountains to the Himalayas in India and Nepal.

After arriving in Bangladesh, he was unable to pass through Myanmar due to the current situation so he had to fly to Thailand. From there, he continued walking across Laos and entered Vietnam through Dien Bien province.

During the past 20 months, this man faced many difficulties. He said, besides the challenges of climbing mountains with altitudes up to 6,000m, he had to walk for 1,500km of desert in Central Asia, without water or any villages.

For Kellenberger, physical pain is no longer a challenge, because with regular training, his body gets used to it and becomes stronger. He can even go up to 70 km per day. Meanwhile, the most significant difficulty is the mental issue, since he had to travel long distances alone and do everything on his own, even when he was sick or suffered from food poisoning and high fever in India.

However, he shared: “I am very grateful because on this journey, I have met many kind people and received their help, food and even accomodation”. He also feels lucky to have Mathias Dur - a founder of a charity foundation in Thailand, accompanying him from Thailand to Vietnam, and from Hanoi to the Philippines to join the trip to the final destination in Cagayan de Oro.

Cảm động tấm chân tình ‘người hùng Thụy Sĩ’ với hành trình hàng vạn dặm gây quỹ cho trẻ em Philippines. (Ảnh: Hạnh Lê)
Thomas Kellenberger (right) and Mathias Dur (left) flew from Hanoi to the Philippines on March 25 to finish the rest of the journey. (Photo: Hanh Le)

There is no border between people and people

Touched by Kellenberger's journey, Swiss Ambassador to Vietnam Thomas Gass invited him to take a break and hold a press conference in Hanoi last week, to spread the noble gesture of his compatriot.

In the press conference, Mr. Kellenberger stated: “On the map, there are many fences between countries. However, after this experience, I realized that there are no boundaries between people and people... I have traveled through many countries with different landscapes, cultures and religions, but have always been greeted by warm people.”

This man also sent a great message of solidarity, and called on countries around the world to stop conflicts and disputes. “As we are living under one roof, I hope countries can join hands and work together to solve big problems like climate change, or poverty alleviation,” he said.

Also in the press conference, he shared his surprise when stopping in Hanoi. According to Kellenberger, Vietnam and the Philippines have a lot in common in terms of society, culture, and both were once colonized countries. However, Vietnam has developed rapidly and the government has also made great efforts in poverty reduction.

“Last night, when walking on the streets of Hanoi, I did not see any children wandering, or sleeping on the street. Vietnam has done a great job in social work, as well as ensuring the lives of its people… I think the Philippines needs to learn from this, to help the children there have a better life”, Kellenberger said.

According to Ambassador Thomas Gass, Mr. Kellenberger is truly a "Swiss hero" in this world, where technology and countless means of transport dominate.

“Thomas Kellenberger has inspired great inspiration through his strength and determination to show that human potential is limitless, and that in this world there are no boundaries between people and people", the Ambassador emphasized.

From Switzerland to Vietnam, covering a journey of 13,000km, Thomas Kellenberger has raised 92,000 USD for charity through many sources, including IKP's headquarters in Switzerland, his stories have been updated regularly on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, etc.

He also said that this is still a modest number compared to the initial goal of 165,000 USD to be able to establish the second children's village in Cagayan de Oro. In the near future, he plans to write a book about his 15,000km journey, and there would be a documentary movie to promote the IKP charity, as well as inspire and enhance awareness of child protection around the world.

Now he is in the Philippines to complete the last 2,000km hike, before reaching Cagayan de Oro - where he founded the charity IKP.

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