Thomas Jakel is, in his own words, “an adventurer, movie-maker and entrepreneur from Berlin.” He’s the co-founder of Guts for Change, a change agency concerned with promoting social projects to improve the world.
Some of the agency’s projects are their own undertakings, though.
Recently, he and his colleague, Joe, completed a 9000km road trip, hitch-hiking their way from Berlin to India, filming their trip with the intention of making a documentary. More importantly, they’re raising money for a boarding school near Kuregaon, India, which desperately needs proper toilets and beds for its 400 students.
Unlike some boarding schools, attendance at this one isn’t a sign of wealth and privilege, though.
“These children are at boarding school because their parents can’t afford to keep them at home,” Thomas explains. “They’re sleeping on the floor, and going to the toilet in the surrounding fields.”
[NB: switch on the subtitles – 2nd icon on the bottom right - if you don’t speak German!]
The trip itself took 42 days and the pair took lifts from around 45 different people to find their way to India.
It’s a tricky journey. Getting from Germany to India by road means skirting all the way East to China, and then moving back West through Pakistan, if you want to avoid conflict zones. (And you do – especially if there’s just two of you, without your own vehicle).
HERE Maps on a Nokia Lumia smartphone was an essential piece of equipment. “I had the phone in my hands almost the whole time,” Thomas says.
Not just for finding the way, but for communicating it. “We couldn’t speak any of the languages of most of the places we travelled through. But maps are a universal language. We could show the drivers where we were attempting to get to, and that was enough.”
Their strategy was to use gas stations as travel hubs, which they located from HERE Maps. “Hitchhiking from gas stations is a lot easier than standing at the side of the road. You get a chance to strike up a rapport with the drivers. So they can tell you’re not a risk.”
“We had such good experiences with people of all races and religions,” Thomas concludes.
Guts for Change is also crowdfunding the documentary it’s making of the trip, raising more money for the school in the process. You can get involved, too.