By Chris McAsey
In Australia there’s a belief that footy is a great equaliser. People from all walks of life come together to play and watch footy, while programs such as Auskick provide opportunities for most kids to join in.
In recent years that ethos has extended to Asia, with volunteers giving back to local communities by running footy programs and clinics for disadvantaged kids.
Now members of the Vietnam Swans are taking that spirit one giant step further, walking from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh to raise money for local disadvantaged and vulnerable youth.
Jake Norris, who grew up in a small town in South Australia and Sean Down, originally from Dublin, have both lived in Vietnam for many years and seen first-hand the difficulties many local children face.
‘Vietnam is a beautiful country full of really kind and compassionate people,’ Sean says. ’But it was hit hard by events in the twentieth century.
‘While the country is making great strides, there is still a significant number of people, particularly women and children, that need immediate assistance.’
Jake Norris and the Vietnam Swans running a Vietkick clinic in Vùng Tàu.
There are an estimated 26 million children living in Vietnam, with 1 in 5 experiencing deprivations in health, education, shelter, nutrition, water, and sanitation.
It is estimated that around 100 children under the age of five die every day. One-third of children under the age of 16 are considered to be poor, with many forced to live on the streets and forced into early labour.
The Vietnam Charity Walk was conceived by Jake, ironically, while stuck in Australia for seven months doing the Covid pandemic.
‘I decided that when I returned to Vietnam I wanted to give back to the country and its people who have given me so much,’ Jake says.
‘Three long years of preparation and several false starts later, we’re finally about to begin.’
The walk aims to raise in excess of $200,000 USD for local charities the Thanh Loc Project and Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, who are desperate for financial support to help children in their care.
‘Both of these organisations do amazing work for the disadvantaged and vulnerable youth of this country,’ Jake explains.
‘They are on the front line, aiding children in need and helping them not only survive, but thrive.’
The approximately 2,000km walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City will take Jake and Sean through some of Vietnam’s most iconic landscapes.
And just to make the 2,000km trek a bit more challenging, Jake will be walking in Pluggers (an Australian thong footwear) – which has a nice footy connection with the greatest VFL / AFL goal kicker of all time, Tony ‘Plugger’ Lockett.
Jake says he wants the walk to not only test him, but capture the imagination of others to donate for children in need in Vietnam.
‘Wearing thongs will challenge me further and I hope, get as many Aussies following us as possible.
‘Imagine if I pull it off. Some mad Aussie walked 2000km through Vietnam for children!’
Jake, who has ‘lived and breathed’ footy since he was five years old, is an international footy veteran, having played in multiple Australian states, the Manchester Mozzies and now the Vietnam Swans based in Hanoi.
‘Footy in Vietnam is thriving,’ Jake says. ‘Our women’s team just won their second Asian Championships in September, in only their fourth year. They are the pride of our footy club.
‘Our men’s team finished with our second consecutive third place finish in Division 1. Next year we aim to win it all!’
Jake Norris (second from left) with his Vietnam Swans teammates.
The Swans run Vietkick training for children in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with a great turn out of kids in both cities. AFL Asia provides support for these local initiatives through its Development Grants Program.
Sean, a relative newcomer to AFL, says he is amazed at the amount of contacts and friends Jake has made through the sport.
‘I don’t think we’d be able to do this walk if this community hadn’t rallied around us,’ he says.
‘With the support of our local clubs the Vietnam Swans and Viet Celts, we aim to spread the message of care and fundraising.’
Jake says the issue of disadvantaged youth in Vietnam is one that is close to his heart.
‘Through sponsorship, I believe we can not only raise funds to assist the work of these very worthy charities, but also spread awareness of the plight of those less fortunate.’
‘Anything that helps us achieve that will be profoundly welcomed and appreciated.’
For more information about sponsorship opportunities and donations, contact Jake and Sean at:
Sean Down and Jake Norris.
Charity overview: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation are a charity based in Hanoi, Vietnam that helps to transform the lives of kids in crisis. They work with street kids, runaway children, victims of human trafficking, children with disabilities, young rural-urban migrants, kids affected by drugs and HIV/AIDS, homeless families, child prisoners, and the rural poor.
Their impact has been profound on the youth in need in Vietnam, as seen by the figures below:
▪ Impacted the lives of over 50,000 children and families.
▪ Rescued 1,316 people from trafficking.
▪ Reunited 736 runaways with their families.
▪ Sent 6,208 kids back to school.
- Transformed the lives of over 2,000 children in Hanoi.
For more information, please visit https://www.bluedragon.org/
Charity overview: Thanh Loc Project
Founded by Rodney Stone, the Thanh Loc Project is an NGO based in the Mekong Delta, an extremely poor area of Vietnam.
Here, many children have little to no access to education, owing to extreme poverty and a lack of facilities.
This is where the Thanh Loc Project has stepped in, providing hope and education to the children who need it most.
Through the building of houses, schools, toilets, playgrounds, and other infrastructure to provide children with access to schooling and sanitation, the THANH Loc Project is giving hope to children in need.
For more information, please visit their Facebook: www.facebook.com/ThanhLocProject/
Doing it for the kids – Jake Norris and the Vietnam Swans donating some footballs.