Scott Thompson will embark on his epic journey next Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa)

From Scotland to Aceh to Jakarta, One Executive Is Changing Lives

BY :SYLVIANA HAMDANI

SEPTEMBER 20, 2015

Jakarta. For most executives, leave days are very precious. Many of us would work hard at the office throughout the year, saving up those prized two weeks to go somewhere really nice with our friends and families. On those days, we would really let go and relax, keeping all thoughts about deadlines and targets at bay.

After all, isn't that what the leave is for, to rest and recuperate after one full year slaving ourselves at the corporate world?

Not for Scotland-born Scott Thompson. Next Sunday, the director of coal-mining company Harum Energy will embark on a seemingly impossible journey of covering the 2,612-kilometer stretch between Aceh and Jakarta on a becak (tricycle rickshaw).

"I've banked my leave up for a couple of years just for this," he said, looking excited.

It's definitely not going to be a free-and-easy expedition. The father-of-one will pedal through the length of Sumatra, which is known for its steep hills and treacherous muddy valleys.

"I'm sure it's not going to be pleasant, because I'll be pushing and pulling the becak through the hilly Sumatra," he said. "Obviously, it's going to be a strenuous exercise."

And adding up to a series of challenges that he will face along way is the fact that most parts of Sumatra is covered in dense smog.

"Well, I just have to manage that and get the becak through," he said, with nonchalance.

Thompson is hoping to complete the journey within 21 days, which means he has to cover approximately 124 km each day, seven days a week.

"I'll pedal 10 to 12 hours each day, stopping only to go to the kamar kecil [toilet] and sleep," he said. "I'll be doing as much drinking, as much eating as I'm pedalling."

The 47-year-old is not doing it to prove his stamina or physique.

Throughout the arduous journey, Thompson is raising funds for four non-profit organizations, including Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa (Love for the Children of the Nation Foundation, YCAB), Mary's Cancer Kiddies, Yayasan Wisma Cheshire (House of Cheshire Foundation) and Yayasan Puspita (Puspita Foundation).

"I've known all the Yayasans [foundations] for quite some time," he said. "They're all doing different things. But, in a way, they're supporting the same social bracket."

YCAB, for example, seeks to alleviate poverty by offering good education for less fortunate children and teenagers. Currently, they operate 64 Rumah Belajar (learning centers) all over the archipelago, in which they teach these kids necessary life skills, such as English language and computer skills.

Mary's Cancer Kiddies, established by Australian humanitarian, Mary Binks, offers kids with cancer from all over Indonesia access to proper medical treatments in Jakarta.

Yayasan Wisma Cheshire, on the other hand, gives vocational trainings for adult men and women with mobility disabilities.

And Yayasan Puspita, headquartered in Tebet, South Jakarta, advocates for street-kids and offers them a better future with good education.

All these good causes definitely need continuous support to be able to prosper. But does it require someone to attempt such a gargantuan challenge as to pedal a becak from Aceh to Jakarta?

"Sometimes, it takes doing something extreme to raise a significant amount of awareness," said Thompson.

Ester Widya Astuti, representative of YCAB, admires the top executive for taking on such a huge challenge for humanitarian causes in Indonesia.

"I've known him for less than a year, and yet, I'm quite surprised that someone in such a position would attempt something like this," said Ester.

"Few people understand how unpleasant life can be for the less fortunate," she said. "And with this project, Scott has helped to raise awareness on their issues."

Scott is not a stranger to extreme humanitarian acts. In Oct 2010, he took part in an ultra marathon on the Sahara Deserts. He covered the 250-km route in only five days.

Thompson donated Rp 350 million ($24,000) to Mary's Cancer Kiddies from the funds raised in the race

In March 2012, Scott ran a total of 1,250 km from Bali to Jakarta to raise funds for Mary's Cancer Kiddies and YCAB. During the 2012 event, he gathered total donations of Rp 3.8 billion.

"We built four learning centers from those funds," said Ester.

Today Rumah Belajar Scott Thompson can be found among densely populated slums in Kintamani, Bali, Banyuwangi and Situbdondo, East Java and Marunda in North Jakarta.

"I've had the idea [for Becak Terus] almost since I finished my Bali to Jakarta run," he said. "I wanted to do something that's unique to Indonesia, again in Indonesia."

So, when Thompson came across an old becak in a knickknack shop in Tangerang in Oct 2013, he immediately bought it for his next challenge.

"But when I got the becak, I realized that it's not gonna get me very far," Thompson said, with a laugh.

So, the executive contacted Micky Chandra, who owns the TechnoBike bike store in Tangerang, to improve the structure of the becak for him.

It took him about one year to modify the becak's frame and improve its performance.

"It became heavier, but it's goning be safe," he said.

Thompson named the becak, painted in red and white, the "Flying Merah Putih," after Scotland's iconic old train "Flying Scotsman."

"Flying is not what it does," Thompson said, with a laugh. "But in my eyes, it is like the steam engine. It's not particularly fast. It won't get you there quick, but it's sure and steady."

To get ready for the big challenge, Thompson has been training and riding the heavy becak for 10 to 12 hours every Saturday and Sunday.

"Except for Lebaran holidays, I haven't missed a day since April," he said.

He usually started his training rides from around Jalan Sudirman, Central Jakarta, on car free days all the way to Cilegon in Banten, West Java.

"Sometimes, I also went to Bogor or Karawang," he said.

Thompson made a lot of new friends and took hundreds of selfies with passers-by during his training rides.

"Everyone's so friendly," he said. "The police also so friendly. They thought I was doing it only for olahraga [sports]."

Thompson's beloved becak was shipped to Aceh last week to prepare for the big event.

"I thought I was going to be sad, but I'm actually happy to be able to spend time with my family this weekend," he said.

Thompson doesn't have any target of donations to reach with his long becak ride.

"One Rupiah is better than no Rupiah,' he said. "So, no target. But we're trying to get as much as possible."

So far, he has raised a total of Rp 3 billion through sponsorships and personal donations.

"I don't touch that money," he said. "I pay for my own meals and other incidentals along the way."

You can track Thompson's journey through smog-blanketed Sumatra on his website, becakterus.com. Thompson will post videos and photos of him going from one city to another on the website. Donations can be made through the site.

Thompson also seeks to inspire others to do similar humanitarian acts with his becak ride.

"There are a lot of younger, fitter people out there that should be doing this," he said. "Hopefully, they'll take on the challenge and say 'I'll run from Bali to Jakarta faster than Scott Thompson' or 'I'll take a becak from Aceh to Jakarta quicker and raise more money than Scott'.”

“That would be the result that I want."

So, are you up for the challenge?

Info Box: Becakterus.com

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