Northfield man will bicycle 2,000 miles to support homeless families in Vietnam

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Since 1999, when they founded the Catalyst Foundation, Scott Parker and his wife, Caroline Ticarro-Parker, have worked to improve the lives of orphaned, abandoned and homeless children in Vietnam. This month, they’re hoping to give that work a higher profile, as Scott Parker embarks on a 2,000-mile bike ride in 18 days from August 17 to Labor Day, to raise $40.000 for 300 homeless children living in the garbage dump of Kien Giang, Vietnam.

The families there live day-to-day off whatever they can find to eat or sell from the dump. They scour the stinking, disease-ridden, rotting garbage in search of scrap that can be sold for recycling. The children do not attend school and work 12-hour days in the heat, often collapsing from exhaustion and hunger. A poor diet means most dump children are stunted or underweight. With the lack of any sanitation, diseases are easily spread.

Traffickers visit the dump daily looking for girls as young as 4 years old to work in the sex trade all over Southeast Asia. “They are raped and humiliated to see if they are “suitable” to become prostitutes,” said Ticarro-Parker.

“We are trying to make people aware of these kids,” said Parker. “I don’t think people understand in 2006 that you have people living in a garbage dump, and that you have little 4-year-old girls being raped and sent off to prostitution in another country. It just seems unfathomable to people that that would happen, but it does.

“We are lucky that we are not in that situation so we should do something to help,” he added. “Our daughters are now 8 and it could as easily have been them, or could have been us.”

Ticarro-Parker was in Vietnam last March to oversee projects and was made aware of dumps in Rach Gia, a coastal city of more than one million people in Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Some of them have lived in the dumps for several generations. They are uneducated and desperate to find work in the area that is fast becoming a resort community. They signed an agreement with provincial officials two weeks ago, which granted them a large area of land where they will build up to four one-level buildings on stilts (for monsoons). The land can hold up to 12 such buildings. Catalyst will have site control and hired someone to oversee the construction.

With the initial five-year agreement, Catalyst hopes to build the school, set up a scholarship program for the children of about $120 a year to cover clothing and tuition to the private school. They will also feed the children and want to have enough left over to feed them all during the day and give them some extra food to bring home, so they don’t have to eat rice found in the dump, boiled in dirty water.

Catalyst will introduce a vocational program to help the families move into self-sufficiency and learn skills to break the cycle of poverty. A job training program for the oldest children is the best chance for a better life.

The corner of the dump that Catalyst is helping is home to about 29 families. There are many others also living in or near the dump.

“As we were leaving, the kids from the different corners were coming to us and asking for help,” she added.

An avid bicyclist, Parker makes a 40-mile ride from Northfield to St. Paul on his bike three days a week, where he works as a Community Child Care Support Coordinator for the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network. He felt the tour would show commitment to the project and get people to think that if he is willing to ride his bike 2,000 miles for the kids, then they can write a check to support that effort.

“I don’t think you can roll of the couch and go do that,” he said.

Scott completed a 120-mile bike trip in Southern Vietnam with a large group in about 10 hours. He thought that was a slower pace than he can handle, and expects to go 100 to 150 miles a day in 12 hours.

The couple used to live in Portland, Oregon, and have made the drive several times and he is familiar with the route. They are sending press releases to towns along the route. He plans to dip his rear tire into the Pacific Ocean in Astoria, Oregon, on August 17, to make the connection with Vietnam on the other side, and then start moving east until he reaches his home in Northfield, Minnesota, on Labor Day.

Parker’s sister has accepted the arduous duty of donating two-and-a-half weeks of her time to follow her brother across the great Northwest at 20 miles per hour. The logistical challenges include bringing enough food and clothing to prepare for both 30-degree and 100-degree days. He uses a special Lemond touring bicycle, and is bringing plenty of spare parts. He has a list of bike repair shops and dealerships along the route. Friends who live along the way will ride with him for portions of the journey.

Scott Parker and Caroline Ticarro-Parker established the Catalyst Foundation in 1999, after adopting a set of twin girls from an orphanage in southern Vietnam. They operate with a budget of under $120,000 a year and organize a culture camp program in Northfield.

For more information contact Catalyst Foundation at 507-664-9519 or visit online at “www.catalystfoundation.org”:http://www.catalystfoundation.org.

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