It may not be the most efficient mode of travelling long distances, but for a charity awareness ride, a tuk-tuk expedition turns heads and helps to make real change
Text Hastings Forman
Photos Courtesy PMTT
Young children, smiling and looking rather curiously at some of the first Westerners they may have ever seen, gather outside the orphanage on the outskirts of Goa, India. They are welcoming the 20 men who have come with donations in the way of toys, stationary and clothes.
Their arrival in decorative tuk-tuks is undoubtedly the cause for curiosity and amusement. As the group of men enter, one rider passes a small bag of vitamin gums to a child, who takes a look at it, takes one for herself and passes the bag to a friend. This small act of selflessness takes the men aback.
But the force of that touch pales in comparison to what follows. They are informed that every single child in this orphanage was born with a life-threatening disease. There is a death every month. Many of the children they met during this visit will have since passed away.
The inevitable fate of these happy and kind boys and girls struck a chord with the men. Alex Longman describes the scene as one of shock and silence. “Twenty alpha males walked in, twenty emotional and humble males walked out,” says Longman.
Seeing how these children were hidden away from the world humbled them even further. This place was far away from the tourist hotspots, and so there was little to no awareness of their situation.
“Virtually nobody would go there due to its location,” says Michael Phelps. It was this experience, as well as others like it, that strengthened their resolve to continue with “Pimp My Tuk-Tuk” (PMTT) – a fundraiser that sees people take a grueling driving trip off the beaten track in the signature South Asian vehicle – which, as their name suggests, are “pimped out” with different colours, logos of charities and corporate sponsors, along with other personal additions. Its aim is to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities in Asia, to donate to the places they visit, and to raise awareness of people in need.
The idea kicked off at Nick Sutcliffe’s 50th party; Candiah Giritharan, Longman and Phelps committed themselves to following through. There was certainly a dimension of fun and excitement involved in getting a group of friends together for an adventure, driving their tuk-tuks – not competitively – for a total of 1,200 kilometres from Chennai to Goa.
Yet, the charitable aspect was central. Longman emphasises that given the background of most of the group – consisting of bankers, brokers, energy consultants and businessman living and working in Asia – there was a pressing desire to contribute as much as possible. “We wanted to give something back,” says Longman.
By the time they set off, they had raised USD80,000 through their networks. The money funded packages that they would donate during their travels, while the majority of it went to the Singapore Children’s Society and the Round Table India, which used the proceeds to build a four-classroom school in Chennai.
The school continues to expand as other groups of riders follow suit and contribute to the school’s expansion, carrying on the path that PMTT have laid.
The Adventure Continues
The overall success of the India trip prompted a second journey, this time to Sri Lanka in September 2015. Their plan was to cover 1,059 kilometers in seven days, visiting and donating to schools, handicapped communities, homes for the elderly, and other community areas of need. The work being done – and the thrill of an off-road adventure – saw the number of participants doubling to 40.
Longman comments that “bigger was better since we could make more of a change,” although he notes that organising a trip for 40 men was something of a challenge! They also began to bring onboard corporate sponsorship – signing up Crocs Shoes, Coca Cola, Red Dot Power, and Yahava Coffee. There was a range of companies from different industries involved, each with a view to make a small difference.
It proved to be worth it, with over USD 200,000 raised. With this, they bought and distributed computers, shoes, stationary, clothes and toys: They also built a water purification plant that supports 110 families, and donated to Food from the Heart in Singapore, as well as Sri Lanka’s Foundation of Goodness (FOG).
According to FOG, as of April 2017, their efforts have benefitted 16,407 people across 85 villages in Sri Lanka. Every dollar raised goes to charity. Phelps says, “We did not want a situation where 10 or 20 cents out of every dollar was taken for organisation or marketing – [it had to be] a dollar for a dollar.” In keeping with this, all the expenses comes out of the pockets of the participants.
PMTT is back on the road in September 2017. This time, they aim to have 56 people in 28 tuk-tuks covering 1,200 kilometres across Sri Lanka. Their aim is to raise enough for FOG to build three water plants (one of which has already been built and will be opened during the ride), to set up solar panels that will support 100 families, and to help empower women and children through education, training and schooling, among other endeavours. So far they have raised USD150,000 and hope to exceed the funds raised from their 2015 trip.
For more stunning stories and photos, check out Asian Geographic Issue 125.