Planet Goa | April 1st, 2014
Max Chandra has undertaken the biggest adventure of his life : to walk solo across India for three years, covering all twenty-nine states and a distance of over 12000 kilometres. Why? To raise money for the underprivileged families and children of India, his native homeland. If you haven’t heard about it yet, welcome to the inspiring One Step At A Time Charitable Foundation.
I meet Max for a chat over lunch in Palolem, the village in south Goa where he returns for some much needed rest and recuperation between epic walks. Until the Foundation was set up, this tropical idyll was also the place where he once ran a successful gym business, until it became untenable to manage both projects - just one of the many personal sacrifices Max has made in order for this project to happen. Having recently completed the fourth of six walks, I find Max speaking passionately about his charitable cause.
"If I can show people that one person can make a difference, they might transfer their inspiration into action. Compassion seems to be losing out in our society to commercialism and consumerism. We need to go back to valuing our family, friends and fellow human beings, something that I am learning myself during these walks."
Max, a youthful looking forty-seven, has come a long way since his days as a successful CEO in London. He made his first trip to India in 2005, and became deeply and irreversibly impacted by the poverty he witnessed. Talking it over later with friends, the concept of the One Step At A Time Charitable Foundation was born, and a punishing schedule of mental and physical training was put into place.
For the first 1845 kilometre walk through south India, Max’s ‘basic’ equipment weighed in at 27kg and he quickly realised that this 'pack’ weight would need to be halved in order to tackle arduous routes such as the Great Himalaya Trails. Max now walks with two 6kg shoulder bags which consist of a GOS phone, a medical pack, a change of clothes, a torch and of course a camera to document his encounters. He also has a small waist bag and a walking staff slung over one shoulder to complete his nomadic look. Not only is he deprived of all imaginable home comforts for months at a time, but the regime gets tougher with each leg of the walk. On the road, Max has to draw on every bit of strength to keep going. Alone and exhausted, his path is often hampered by serious illness and physical injury.
I ask “Aren't you ever tempted to just hop in a cab?” Max laughs. This has only ever happened in the case of a medical or humanitarian emergency, such as when his kidney collapsed or when he was just eighty km away from the scene of the Tamil Nadu hurricane disaster and wanted to immediately join in the relief effort. The strain of climbing mountains at 18,000 feet, along with the dramatic changes in climate and terrain, have led to shocking effects on Max’s health. A dislocated shoulder, torn ligaments, and permanent damage to his kidneys and heart are accelerated by every walk.
One of the most interesting things I discovered is that Max doesn't speak Hindi. He draws diagrams in the sand to show people his route, simply pronouncing his motive and mission to be "service." ('Charity' is not a recognisable word per se in India). Despite the language barrier, Max has always found company, chai and support from his fellow countrymen whenever he has been at his lowest ebb.
The kindness of strangers along the way helps keep Max’s spirits up but his personal motivation is very clear - over 800 million people in India are without access to basic resources and over 5000 children die unnecessarily every single day. The projects created by the Foundation so far have included an initiative to provide basic water purification systems for the displaced roadside dwellers of Rajasthan and, most recently, Project Vidya. This ambitious ten-year project is aimed at adopting a village in Uttarakhand in the wake of a natural disaster. The money from the Foundation will help to rebuild the village and also take care of its most vulnerable citizens, such as orphans and widows.
Max’s simple and honest philosophy is one that has earnt him invitations to speak at colleges and schools across India - "Not to tell people how it’s done, but to show them that it can be done. Don't just sit back. It's up to all of us." Now half way through this epic walk, the logistics have become increasingly demanding without the desperately needed backup of a full time team. There are also book deals on the horizon, television, magazine and tabloid interviews - and humanitarian award nominations to factor into his schedule. So far seven lakhs have been raised and the campaign is gathering momentum all the time.
Max is now preparing for the next stage of his journey, Project Vidya in Uttarakhand. As heavy rains continue to threaten the region, Max has no choice but to sit tight and wait for ‘the call.’ He is already planning to pursue journalistic ambitions after the final walk and aims to follow people’s stories with a gritty, fly on the wall approach. For this brave and committed man, the One Step at a Time Charitable Foundation is undoubtedly a project for life.
If you would like to get involved with The Walk, feel free to contact Max by email firstname.lastname@example.org , or via the One Step At A Time Charitable Foundation Facebook page. Alternatively, you could even join him on his walk, the next one being scheduled in another two to three months between Delhi and Kolkata. What an incredible opportunity to make a difference!