Bringing with him what he called “home” — a 10kg backpack — Winston Fiore, a former US marine on an 8,000km fund-raising walk for children with cleft lips and palates, is set to begin his visit to Taiwan, the seventh country in his year-long journey.
Inside his backpack are a “tent, sleeping bags, a sleeping mattress, 4 liters of water and some various other things” which have been his home since he started to raise funds for facial-reconstructive surgery for children in developing countries by starting his walk in Singapore in October last year.
The reason the 26-year-old volunteered for the cause was as simple as carrying the “light” backpack on the long route that has taken him through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, before he flew to Taipei earlier this week.
“What I really like about this cause, it’s such a small amount of money and such a short amount of time. That’s all it takes to completely turn these kids’ lives around,” Fiore said as he talked about his experiences with young Taiwanese at an event organized by the American Institute in Taiwan yesterday.
The money he has raised will be used by the International Children Surgical Foundation, a charity established by plastic surgeon Geoff Williams to provide free surgery to children in developing countries with cleft lips and palates or any other type of deformity.
“It takes just US$250 and a couple of hours of surgery to give a child a new life and a new face” and save them from suffering the complications associated with clefts, including feeding problems, poor nutrition, hearing loss, speech difficulty, dental deformity and social complications, he said.
“That’s why I chose the charity in particular,” he said.
Fiore said he based this trip in the region because of its high prevalence of cleft births.
He decided to dedicate himself to volunteering in the summer of 2007 when he was deployed as a US Marine to Lingure, Senegal.
Witnessing local customs in the most western country in Africa “really made me realize how little of the world I have seen, and how much more I want to see,” Fiore said.
“I decided to dedicate one year to travel a part of the world I have never been to before on foot, by walking, so that I can connect with locals, as I had in Senegal,” he said.
Seeing women carrying liters of water on their head from water sources far away from their villages to bring potable water home, and other “very depressing things” in Senegal made him decide to turn his travel idea into “walking for a cause” and “trying to do some good,” rather than just a year-long vacation, Fiore said.
Fiore said he started to look at different causes and charities after he returned to New York and that he was very inspired by Williams’ story and what the foundation has done for children, thanks to a newspaper article his father sent him.
Fiore’s fund-raising walk from Taipei to Greater Kaohsiung is scheduled to begin on May 30.