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 two 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 20th century.
"While the country is making great strides, there is still a significant number of people, particularly women and children, that need immediate assistance."
There are an estimated 26 million children living in Vietnam, with one in five 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.
Jake, who has "lived and breathed" footy since he was five years old, is an international footy veteran, having played in multiple Australian states, for the Manchester Mozzies in England 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!"
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 and donations, contact Jake and Sean at: