BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 23 August) — Thomas Kellenberger, the Swiss who started a foundation for children in the Philippines, will have completed one year of his fundraising walk from Switzerland to the Philippines on Thursday, August 25, 2022.
Speaking online with MindaNews on Sunday from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, Kellenberger said he has now walked up to 8,200 kilometers of the target 15,000 kilometers of his two-year walk to Cagayan de Oro City, dubbed “Kuya Thom Goes Home.”
As of August 1, Kellenberger’s trek has been able to raise 75,000 Swiss Francs out of the target of CHF165,000. (According to the website of Island Kids www.islandkids.ch, the exact amount raised at the time of the interview on August 21, 2022 is CHF 74,695.53).
The amount is already enough to buy the land and construct the first school building and to fund the costs for one year of operations, according to Kellenberger.
The 39-year old Kellenberger, a former policeman in Bern, hopes to be in the Ladakh region in northwest India on August 25, 2022. He started his trek on August 25, 2021 in Wilderswil, Bern.
From Tashkent, Kellenberger will fly to the city of Leh, the capital of Indian-administered Ladakh region, then he will walk the next 1.5 months to Nepal where his target arrival will be in mid-October.
Kellenberger said he had to make changes in his route after reaching the Lake Karakul in Tajikistan because of border crossing difficulties with the neighboring countries
“I became stuck in a dead end,” he said, because from Karakul, the border to China is closed because of China’s strict COVID-19 regulations, while the border to Khyrgyzstan is also closed because the two countries “are not friends.” The border to Afghanistan meanwhile is difficult to cross since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021.
“I feel amazing, I feel very healthy,” said Kellenberger when asked about his health nearing one year of his trek across an estimated 22 nations.
“It’s amazing what the walking does to the body. My body has adjusted well and has become used to the walking,” said Kellenberger, who averages from 40 to 45 kilometers a day on flatland.
He said in the beginning of his walks, he had problems with his limited food intake and often went hungry or felt weak from blood sugar changes because of this.
He admitted the walking goes slower in the mountains especially in Tajikistan, where most of the country is over 3,000 meters above sea level, and where he can only finish from 10 to 15 kilometers per day.
In the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan, he also had a bad case of suspected food poisoning from eating bad meat and suffered severe diarrhea, dehydration and a fever while recuperating in a homestay place.
“I was sick for five days and lost a lot of weight and the owner of the homestay got me medical help from a doctor,” said Kellenberger of the incident.
There remain many stretches when Kellenberger walks alone. “At the Bartang valley and in the Tajik National Park, I was walking all alone for around 140 kilometers, there were no houses to see and except for some shepherds, I did not meet any people for many days. There was also no internet,” he said.
But Kellenberger remains optimistic that he can finish the trek, saying that he is amazed at the assistance that he gets from people along the way.
“Since I left Switzerland, it has nearly been good experiences. The people I meet have been amazing. They give me food, they give me shelter, they even want to give me some of their money!” he said.
He adds: “In Central Asia where I am now, the people are respectful and curious about my walk and want to help me. Sometimes I need to turn down their offer to stay in their homes because it will delay me.”
He said that in warm weather, he carries a lighter load of only 16 kilos, preferring to give away his used set of clothes or worn shoes to others who need them along the way. With food and water, his backpack only weighs up to 20 kilos.
Although he has already gone through three pairs of shoes, he received new pairs from his shoe sponsor LOWA through the Swiss Cooperation Office or DEZA and the Philippine mission in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
“The soles can last maybe 2,000 kilometers of walking before they start to break down. I prefer to wear low-cut hiking shoes in good or warm weather, and maybe a pair of boots in the mountains,” said Kellenberger.
Kellenberger says he is also grateful for fellow hikers that he meets on the road by chance and who accompany him for short stretches of the way. On the way from Istaravshan (in Tajikistan) to Tashkent which is around 200 kilometers, he met a Swiss fellow hiker who used a tandem bike together with him.
And in early October, his fellow Swiss hiker Marijn who hiked with him in Turkey will rejoin him on his walk for two weeks.
He also said he looks forward to walking through the mountains of northwest India and Nepal in the next stages. “I love the mountains more than the desert because the mountains give me more freedom to choose my way. I can go over the mountains, and I don’t need to cross roads and avoid traffic,” said Kellenberger.
Walking through the mountains, he added, gives him a clear mind to think through his goals and offers him new ideas on his work at the Island Kids Philippines foundation which he started with Filipinos in 2007.
He is updated about developments in the Philippines and said he is happy that the schools are opening this month for limited face-to-face classes. “I really felt bad for our students who could not join their classes for such a long time. I hope the Philippines will not be very strict again and that there will be a change when I finally reach Cagayan.”
When he has internet, he makes calls with the students of his foundation. “They ask me when I will be back. I tell them around April or May next year. But still they keep asking me.”
“The closer I get, the more motivated I get,” added Kellenberger. (Brady Eviota for MindaNews)
You can track Thomas on his trek or keep in touch with him via Instagram accounts (islandkidsphilippines or Kellenberger Thomas), his Facebook account (Kellenberger Thomas) or on the Island Kids Philippines website (www.islandkids.ch)