Big-hearted teen gives her all

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  12-year-old Singaporean-Australian teenager Charlotte Lau during the cycling adventure from Hoi An Town to Hue Town

When did you first participate in a charity event to help people in need?

This week, Thanh Nien Weekly talked with Charlotte Lau, a 12-year-old Singaporean-Australian, about her recent cycling adventure from Hue Town to Hoi An Town.

The tour from November 17 to 21 was the second organized by Saigon Children's Charity (SCC), which was founded in 1992 to help disadvantaged Vietnamese children get an education and a fairer start in life. This year, this cycling adventure raised more than US$25,000.

Lau was the only non-adult among the 18 cyclists who took part in this second edition of what is planned to be an annual event.

She was also one of the sponsors. Before the tour, Lau raised money from friends and their families for SCC.

According to Frederikke Lindholm, the organization's fundraising chief, the money raised in the first event last year went to SCC's Vocational Training School in District 4, one of the poorest areas of Ho Chi Minh City.

Here, children who cannot attend mainstream school can study English, computer skills, hairdressing, art and photography for free.

At first sight, Lau does not look the kind to have pedaled the long road from Hue to Hoi An with its grueling haul up Hai Van Pass in sunshine and rain for 32 hours over four days.

"My dad in Singapore had a lot of doubts. He called me the day before I started the trip and kept asking me "Are you sure?"

"The boys at school also thought that I was too weak for this adventure. But my girlfriends believed that I could do it," says Lau with a smile.

She certainly exudes confidence and an air of maturity surprising in one so young.

Currently attending the British International School, Lau and her mother moved to Vietnam four years ago after spending time in Belgium and Singapore.

In a press release from SCC, Lau says she feels very privileged in her life because she has been given the gift of education and shelter, therefore her contribution for underprivileged children is just a small gift of her time to give these children an opportunity for a brighter future.

She says it was her mother's idea for the daughter to participate in the tour.

"My mum took part last year and believed that I could do it too. It was a special occasion for me and my mum to join this year as a family."

This is the second time Lau has been on a bicycle tour in Vietnam, the first being a day trip from Da Lat to Nha Trang three years ago.

Her strategy for last month's ride of more than 211 kilometers was simple: think positive thoughts, and keep pedaling.

In preparation for the tour, she spent a lot of time at the gym. She kept telling herself to focus, focus, focus and she would achieve her target. If she could handle Hai Van Pass, she could do anything.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't a smooth run from Hue to Hoi An. The first day was hard, hot and windless, but her mother was there to urge her on.

It took one hour and forty minutes to climb Hai Van Pass. "It was so hot and I felt sweat running down my face. Then I got so thirsty and realized I had no more water. Luckily a friend gave me water," says Lau.

"Then a young guy on a motorbike offered to push me to the top, but I declined. There was only one thing on my mind: to get it over with and done. It was hard going down the other side too, and I could feel all the muscles in my arms."

But it was worth the Herculean effort. "When I reached the summit of Hai Van I was so relieved and felt on top of the world. The view from there was so amazing."

Her trip afforded Lau much opportunity to discover local life in small alleys off the main road and taste the local food in small eateries in this beautiful part of Vietnam.

Lau appreciated the scenery along the way too. "We passed by lakes with little houses in the middle. The sky and the water were the same blue color and sometimes it was hard to distinguish between the sky and the lake's surface."

Lindholm finds it a remarkable achievement for a young person like Lau to volunteer her time and effort to support her local community.

"Our work at SCC focuses on poverty reduction through bringing educational opportunities to children and young people," he said.

"It is a double investment: an investment in the children but also in the future of Vietnam. Lau and socially aware, young people like her are in many ways part of shaping that future."

Noting that this was the second Charity Cycle Adventure, the fund-raising chief said: "This year's riders started the tour with their eyes fixed on the finish line 211 kilometers later and on topping last year's fundraising target."

Lau used to cycle a lot in District 2 when she lived there. Like most foreigners who spend time in southern Vietnam, what she likes most about HCMC is the weather.

"I really don't want to stay at home doing nothing," she says. One of her wishes is to become a proficient singer so that she can perform for charity.

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