How far would you go for a good cause?

Yahoo! Singapore presents "Life's Journeys," an inspirational series of articles featuring people who have made that big step to make their lives more than ordinary.

by Elaine Ee, for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

Can you live through extreme sunburn, bee stings, getting kicked by a horse and losing your toenails in the name of charity? Because these are just some of the things Alexandra Toh has gamely endured in her quest to help those in need. The 27-year-old is the co-founder of The Chain Reaction Project, a non-profit organisation that takes on adventure challenges to do good.

Established in 2009, the group has already cycled and run a marathon in East Timor to raise funds and awareness for a malnutrition rehabilitation centre; conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in a two-day bike race and marathon to help Tanzania’s street kids and AIDS orphans; and tackled the treacherous rapids and steep slopes of Mount Apo in Davao, Philippines to aid in the fight against human trafficking.

“I’ve lost seven toenails!” says Alexandra jovially. “But considering the adventures and the areas we’ve travelled to, we’ve been fortunate to come out fairly unscathed. The team and I still have all our limbs intact.”

Inside story
Alexandra hails from the Philippines but is of mixed heritage, and has lived in several countries. “My mum is Filipina-Spanish and my dad is Singaporean-Chinese. I was born in Taiwan but grew up in Manila.” She now resides in Singapore.

Her experience in the Philippines is what inspired her to start The Chain Reaction Project. “It played a big part. While I was fortunate to have had a fairly privileged life in Manila, I was also surrounded by the grim reality of many Filipinos living in abject poverty. Witnessing their hardships and the injustices they faced instilled in me a desire to change things, to make a difference and to give back.” In fact, her most recent project was a “corporate adventure” in Manila – building 10 homes over four weekends with Woh Hup Pte Ltd and a local non-profit organisation, Gawad Kalinga.

Gruelling but satisfying
Being involved in The Chain Reaction Project has given Alexandra a lot of great memories.

“Each undertaking has been memorable,” she shares. “But if I had to pick one, it would be the Kili(man)jaro Adventure Challenge we did in 2011. To scale the mountain, we slept under a blanket of stars, pushed through the blistering cold, and cycled through Maasai land and fields of sunflowers. I also completed my first full marathon in the town of Moshi. We were witness to not just the grandeur and the larger-than-life beauty of Africa, but also to its realities and poverty.”

She also recalls their first trip to East Timor in 2009 for the inaugural Tour de Timor. “It was a five-day, 450 km bike race that took us through nine of the country’s 13 districts,” she explains. “In just a couple of months, we managed to raise about S$44,500 for malnutrition rehabilitation centre, HIAM Health. It opened my eyes to our potential to affect change while doing what we love.”

Their second trip in 2010 was just as fulfilling. “We took part in the inaugural Dili City of Peace Marathon to promote peace in a country that was still healing from the wounds of civil war. This time, we raised about S$37,500 for HIAM, which included a S$28,000 playground,” she says proudly.

Team effort
Then again, “the real heroes are the people working on the ground. Witnessing their passion and commitment inspires me to do the work that I do,” affirms Alexandra. “The many children we try and help touches me too. Seeing their innocence and their suffering motivates me to do something, to give them the fighting chance that they deserve.”

But working for The Chain Reaction Project is not easy, of course. “It’s just me and two other teammates who are full-time, and we sometimes lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she admits. “It is hard to keep something running on passion alone; it gets frustrating and extremely stressful. But the past three years have shown me that with faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust, you can make a difference – and that at the end of the day, there’s nothing else I would rather do. It is a perfect marriage of my love for adventure and philanthropy.”

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