The “Run with Sai” campaign started in October last year at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).
Then, after racing around the country for charity for over three months, Sai crossed the finish line on January 10 – arriving at the place where it had all started 97 days prior.
Uon Pakthom (aka Sai) is a Cambodian singer and entertainer whose dedication to charity has been an inspiration to many.
One of the people inspired by Sai is Chy Nikko, a 15-year-old girl who says she was motivated to follow Sai’s positive example and try to “Run with Sai” herself to raise funds for The Rabbit School.
Her run for charity lasted from January 3-7, with four days of running and a one day break.
Nikko’s run started as Sai’s was nearing its end after more than 90 days.
Although she didn’t match Sai’s 99-day total, she showed remarkable endurance by running from Prey Veng to Kandal province with him, a distance of 100km.
Nikko is a Grade 10 student at Northbridge International School Cambodia (NISC). The school requires each student to work on a project that they are passionate about and which aids the community.
After Nikko and her father met Sai by chance at an athletic-wear store while he was shopping for running shoes, Nikko suddenly realised what her school project should be.
“The day we met Bong Sai, it was one week before he started his run around Cambodia for the Angkor Hospital for Children,” Nikko said, using the Khmer kinship term “bong” for addressing someone who is typically (up to two decades) older.
“My dad introduced me to him and explained his campaign and goals. I thought maybe I could run with him one day.
“It wasn’t until later on that the idea became serious. After following his run on social media for several weeks, I was very inspired by it all.
“I decided to call him and propose this project of fundraising for The Rabbit School. Within the week, we’d worked out an agreement to run together,” Nikko explained.
The Rabbit School is a Cambodian NGO that was established in May 1997 to provide education for children with special needs.
Nikko first visited The Rabbit School with her parents when she was 7 or 8, and the experience stuck with her and motivated her to want to help the children there who were less fortunate than herself.
Hun Touch, the director of The Rabbit School, told Nikko that many parents in Cambodia are ashamed of having a child with autism and that in the past, many people with autism or intellectual disabilities had been treated inhumanely by society, which only made their conditions worse.
“I believe what could help them thrive and integrate into society is giving them a supportive environment to grow instead of a negative one where they are bullied and looked down upon,” she says.
Nikko also recruited her good friend Lim Dalen to run with her. Soon, more people wanted to join her, and she had a total of six additional friends running alongside her and Sai most days, as well as one of her teachers from NISC.
Dalen says that no one in their group had ever run that far, and while it wasn’t easy to endure all the physical aches and pains, she feels the experience has taught her important lessons.
“I’ve learned to overcome the pain. It was too far, and it was too hot. But we reached our goal despite those challenges. It was a very good experience for me. I have no regrets. I never thought I’d be able to do something like that myself,” she says.
Nikko adds that part of the difficulty they faced was due to the uneven surface of the country roads and national roads which made their knees hurt. Along the way, they were also frequently startled by barking dogs that would suddenly appear at the roadside as they ran past.
Despite the tough time they had on their run, Nikko says she is grateful for the lessons she has learned from it.
“I have learned a lot of valuable lessons. The challenge posed by the distance, in and of itself, was far outside my comfort zone. At the same time, finishing each of the runs was very rewarding personally, and it was also great to see the spirit of teamwork motivating everyone,” she says.
They raised money for The Rabbit School by asking people to pledge a certain amount for each kilometre they managed to run. The total they had raised by the end of their final day of running on January 7 was around $13,000.
The money will go towards the purchase of learning materials, the operating costs of the school, salary for the teachers and scholarships for families who can’t afford the school’s tuition fees.
“I hope people can find it in their hearts to take the initiative and do more humanitarian work. Bong Sai provided us all with a marvellous example, but you don’t need to be a celebrity to make a difference.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you’re rich or famous. Everyone can do something impactful and meaningful to help others in need if they’d only try,” Nikko concluded.
Sai made the final 21km stretch of his “Run with Sai” campaign from Kandal to RUPP early on January 10. His total running distance was 2,408km across 21 provinces and cities in 97 days, thereby raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Angkor Hospital for Children.
Nikko has already reached her 100km goal as well, but there’s a lot you can still do to help if you’d like to donate money to the fundraiser for The Rabbit School.
Donate via ABA account: 009 992 021 (Chy Nikko and Sor Sothearom).
Any amount you can give is welcome and Nikko, Sai and The Rabbit School thank you for your kind generosity.