Australian walks for blind kids

Update: December, 17/2015 - 10:49
Trusty companion: Joe Edwards (left) with his only company a sheep dog almost all the time undertook a long, unpleasant journey to make more than US$26,000 for blind kids in Viet Nam. — Photos courtesy of Joe Edwards

By Nguyen Khanh Chi

HA NOI  (VNS) — As the Christmas party goes on, sight-impaired youngsters surround Joe Edwards, holding his hands. Unable to see their ‘Santa Claus', they still look into his eyes, showing their admiration.

This Santa Claus has flow over 5,000km to give them a special Christmas present, more than A$36,000 (US$26,000) he raised from his walk along his country, Australia.

The funds were given to underprivileged kids of the Hai Duong Province's Blind Association during a Christmas and New Year party on Monday.

Leaving high school two years ago, Edwards joined Latitude Global Volunteering upon his mother's advice. The then 19-year-old man came to teach English in the province in the North of Viet Nam for three and a half months.

By chance, he heard about the kids who suffer from blindness as an indirect effect of Agent Orange at the Blind Association. He taught them English for five days.

Seeing the poor living conditions of the kids, Edwards couldn't keep back his tears.

"It was sort of flick switch in my head," Edwards said.

"The kids don't get much help from many people. In my country, there are a lot of people that need help but no one needs help more than the kids here," he said.

As soon as he returned to Australia, he embarked on the idea of "Walk the Line" which many thought "crazy". However, the idea came into being two years later, in mid-2015.

With his only company a sheep dog for most of the journey, Edwards walked 3,500km from Cairns, a city in the north tropical Queensland to Mel-bourne, Victoria's coastal capital.

Aware of this noble plan and purpose, and admiring the Melbourne native's determination, many individuals, enterprises, social organisations, and local administrations waited the day he passed them to donate to the "Walk the Line" Fund.

Donations came in various ways, either sending the money directly to the fund's bank account or giving directly to him.

Every little bit helps: Joe Edwards is happy to receive donations from his countrymen, which will help Vietnamese kids.

 "When Joe Edwards saw the kids living in the aging and unstable building, he said he wanted to do something to help them when he returned home," said Pham Van Huong, an English teacher at the association.

"Coming home, he informed me of his plan to walk 3,500km to raise funds for the kids. I told him the idea was interesting but quite crazy," Huongsaid.

‘Just wait and see how my crazy idea goes', Edwards wrote to Huong, adding that he would grow his hair until he completed the journey.

Huong said Edwards updated her along his route but kept secret the amount of money people donated.

"Joe has kept his word, and his hair has grown much longer."

When he started, the Australian public supported him and NGO's like "Agent-Orange Justice of Australia" helped him to reach more and more people.

"When he came up with Walk the Line I was surprised. If anybody can do it…it is him," said Juergen Eichhorn from the Star of Viet Nam charity organisation through which the funds are donated to help 65 sight-impaired children and young adults.

"My brain told me ‘NO'. I know about the dangers in the bush and on the way and roads. There are snakes, spiders and other animals that can kill you in seconds," the German said. "However, my heart told me ‘YES'."

"Walk the Line is one of the great stories which delivers our message around the world. In Europe, many people and organisations know about the initiative," Eichhorn added.

Edwards used to be shy, but with his motivation to help the kids, he would talk to everyone about their story. He said he has learned to be more outgoing because of the walk.

Huong said he was so gentle and shy that he just smiled whenever someone at the blind association teased him.

"Joe has extraordinary courage. Many people might think of a similar idea, but not many can realize it. I really admire him and what he has done."

For Edwards, there are only two ways to be in this world: either be a part of the problem, or be a part of the solution, he chose to help.

The Aussie youth had to learn to overcome problems, "No matter how hard the walking got, I would still not have it harder than the blind kids in Hai Duong. That's what kept me going, mentally and physically," he said.

Embarking on the journey, he did really face challenges, solitude and feeling like the finish line was an eternity away. There were also close calls with trucks, snakes, injuries and dehydration. In addition, he had to travel through various terrains including deserts that sometimes reached over 40oC in the day time or dropped to 16oC at night.

The blind kids present Joe Edwards a large-sized painting with lots of foot and figure imprints. — VNS Photo Khanh Chi

According to Eichhorn, who now is in charge of organising therapy and play groups for kids, music lessons, fun and games and English courses for the kids, the association will build a new four floor building with a kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, and play and therapy areas next year.

"The money [that Joe raised] will be used for the new building and I am sure that one room will carry the name ‘Joe Edwards Therapy room'," said Eichhorn.

"He loves the kids and he made all this to arrange money for better accommodation and living conditions."

Apart from 65 children and youths aged from four to 18 at the association, about 35 more very young kids (three to nine years) are waiting to get a place in the centre. With the new donation, there will be enough space for about 120 disabled children.

Moved by his golden heart, the kids presented Edwards a large-size picture on which they draw a plenty of foot and finger prints, in the hope that many other people will follow in his foot steps. — VNS