In September, 52 people will tick a box on their bucket lists when they spend nine days driving across Sri Lanka in customised tuk tuks. Organisers Alex Longman, Michael Phelps, Giri Candiah and Eamonn Ling explain the motivation behind Pimp My Tuk Tuk (PMTT) and its significant local impact.
What was the inspiration to start PMTT?
Seven years ago, a group of us were brainstorming novel ways to celebrate a milestone birthday of Nick Sutcliffe, one of the founders. He had spent time working and living in India, and thought the idea of driving tuk tuks would be a fantastic way to see the country, put some smiles on faces and bond as friends. The idea grew from there. We decided to make PMTT even more special and include a charity venture to focus on helping children that were less fortunate than our own. Our inaugural ride was in India in 2013, followed by Sri Lanka in 2015 and again in 2017.
How does PMTT’s fundraising improve the lives of Sri Lankans and others?
We work with two charities: Food from the Heart in Singapore and the Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka. Food from the Heart provides food and goods parcels for low income families; some of our riders have previously volunteered by packing food parcels and helping with the weekly deliveries.
The funds and awareness raised in 2015 for the Foundation of Goodness have changed over 19,000 people’s lives through everything from dental and medical care, to training and life skills, from the very young to the elderly.
And we are all very passionate about clean water projects. In 2015, we built a reverse osmosis water purification plant in a remote village where many deaths (due to chronic kidney disease) were attributed to dirty water. The water plant supports about 500 families, or 1,500 people. Most of the riders have continued to donate monthly since building the plant and being there for the official opening in 2015. They were so taken aback at how much so little can do. Since then, we have built three water plants around Sri Lanka and we aim to build one a year.
Tell us a little about the riders this year.
The 52 of us are all up for a challenge: to do something different and to help those less fortunate than ourselves. In general, we’ve all lived and worked in Asia and are mostly professionals who work, or have worked in multinational companies. Importantly, the trips are fully self-funded and all monies raised go directly to the charities. How does a typical day unfold on the road? Each day is different depending on where we are, how far and in what conditions we are driving, and if riders need to be in a specific place at a specific time – for example, a visit to a school for the disadvantaged, or a sponsor visit.
We generally start early – around 6am. Each tuk tuk team checks that their vehicle is in working order and has adequate fuel levels, and ensures they have sufficient water for the day. There may be a quick meeting to discuss timings, but teams are free to choose whichever route they think best to get from A to B; sometimes there are some counterintuitive decisions! Factors affecting the routes include the availability of places to refuel, road conditions, scenic versus shortest route, timings and sometimes the places of interest along the way.
Generally things go smoothly, but teams do occasionally get lost, run out of fuel, breakdown or get caught in poor weather. Sometimes the driving days can be very long. Once we reach our destination, the riders are free to relax, share the day’s stories, catch up with family, sample the local cuisine or explore the surroundings.
Any logistical challenges?
PMTT is becoming a trip that people put on their bucket list. The major challenge is the sheer numbers of participants – 52 this year! That’s a lot of flights to book, and international driving licences to apply for. Once we’re on the trip, it’s like “herding cats”; it takes a lot of organisation to make sure everyone gets on their way every morning and reaches home each evening.
Tuk tuks aren’t known as the most comfortable vehicles; is it a physically gruelling ride?
There is certainly a physical aspect to the trip – especially for a group of middle-aged folk. Fundamentally, tuk tuks are designed for short urban hops, rather than long cross-country journeys in variable road conditions. But we all make the best of it, and end up falling in love with our tuk tuk “chariots”.
Start and end: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Tuk tuks: 26
Fundraising target: S$250,000
Recipient charities: Foundation of Goodness (Sri Lanka) and Food from the Heart (Singapore)
PMTT is looking for corporate sponsors to help a good cause. Get in touch at pimpmytuktuk.org.