Before you do a single thing, look at this adorable Ugandan baby dressed as a giraffe.
Now onto the thinking behind Hecka Walk…
The Short, Borderline Curt Version:
Starting late June, I’ll be taking a personal pedestrian pilgrimage from Boston to San Francisco to raise money for a small village in Uganda called Kasana-Luweero. I lived there as part of a Field Education placement in summer of 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the people. The money raised will be divided into three categories: 1) Wells, 2) Tuition, and 3) Lunches, meaning that the money will go toward building wells, aiding those who can’t afford to go to school (specifically at St. Jude’s Primary), and feeding any student there who can’t afford to eat lunch.
To be clear from the start, virtually every penny of Hecka Walk will be given to these causes. I am not taking a cut, using the money for a plane ticket, or getting a much-needed mani-pedi. I’d be happy as a clam to show the bank account to virtually anyone who’d like to see it. You should see exactly one withdrawal in January when I send the first half of money over, then one more in August-ish of 2020 when I send the second half over after I reach the Pacific Ocean at Stinson Beach.
The money will be transferred to Uganda via a program from Cary, NC called Share the Blessings (http://www.share-the-blessings.org/) and I will (with my own money) fly to Uganda to document the well constructions, student sponsorships, and lunch program while working as a teacher. Ultimately, I want every person who donated money to see exactly where it went. I have an (admittedly suspect) theory that people would be pumped to pay taxes if they knew exactly which pothole it was filling, which kindergarten teacher’s salary it was paying, which library copy of To Kill a Mockingbird was now available to the nearest inquisitive but impoverished bookworm, and which family’s home was saved by their local Fire Department, but the sneaking suspicion that our taxes feed some bureaucrat’s pocket or our Military Industrial Complex sucks the life out this vital social good.
So, in the spirit of that concept, once the money is moving and I’m living in the village, I’ll send photos, videos, etc. galore of the fruits of our collective labor. If all goes as hoped, they will be images of villagers drinking clean water in their own village for the first time, impoverished children attending school with their friends, and hungry kids eating solid lunch food instead of merely drinking ground-up corn mixed in hot milk.
If you find this a worthy cause, please go to the following bits for more information, photos, videos, and/or tracking:
If this isn’t your jam or you’re dead broke, the occasional prayer will be appreciated instead of money.
With Hecka Gratitude,
The Longer, Borderline Verbose Version:
About a year ago, one of my professors gave an assignment to write an essay about any difference between the Latin and Orthodox churches, with the sole instruction of “Make it good.” Sweet. Open-ended assignments like that rock hecka socks because they give the opportunity to study contemporary topics through the lens of history. In that particular case, I had just gone to a talk about Israel-Palestine, Zionism, etc. and found myself lacking conviction, one way or the other, so I thought it’d be helpful to see how different theologies, movements, etc. understood the concept of "the Holy Land" specifically and pilgrimages in general. If done well, perhaps I’d get some clarity and/or nuance on the topic. [On a side note, the paper ended up being called “Gazing at the Greatest Navel,” and if you’re interested in the topic, let me know and I’d be happy to email it to you!]
After doing a bit of reading about pilgrimages within different cultures and religions, I thought, “Damn, I wish we had a tradition like this in the USA.” I understand that at a certain level we do, like when we expect 8th graders to go to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell or college students to turn Kerouac up to 11 at least once before they don their robes, but, alas, a hajj-level trek these are not.
I'm a bit young to have seen the Delano to Sacramento March (though it was more of a protest than a pilgrimage), so it turns out I had to leave the continent to see some proper peregrines---and, boy, did I see them! Within a week or so of being in Uganda, hundreds of African pilgrims came through Kasana-Luweero on their way to Namugongo, the location of the shrine held for the first Christian martyrs. Our priest, Father Joe Kakooza, later brought us to that shrine, where the largest Mass I'd ever seen was held in their honor. Phenomenally, ten percent of Ugandans came, most walking several weeks to get there, along with pilgrims from Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Kenya, and other neighboring countries. The ceremony was astounding, to say the least.
When I’ve brought this story up to Americans, the response is generally something like, “That’s awesome, but good luck getting your employer to give you three weeks off to walk to a shrine and back.” Good point. Even the most pious peregrine will have a hell of a time getting Howard Schultz to give them that time off from work (sans that being their newly acquired permanent condition). Time is money, baby, and so not to be wasted walking hundreds of miles to mark the location where some people were burned back in the eighteen-hundred-whatever. Anno domini be damned; Anno pecuniam be praised.
So, even after returning to the USA, seeing the pilgrims sing and dance as they journeyed to Namugongo has never quite left my mind. And, as Hecka Walk hopefully exemplifies, neither has the rest of that time.
While in Kasana-Luweero, I did my damndest to walk to as many places as I could, and though the villagers I met were out-of-this-world fantastic, their material circumstances were soul-crushing. For example, I was playing Tag with a bunch of random village kids, and as I chased this fourth grade girl, she ran home to “Base,” which was a torn up blanket with a few boards around it. I asked her what this was and she told me it was her room---the girl had never lived inside before.
[This was her bed and blanket, though I can't zoom out far enough to show the rest.]
Another time I was walking by a pond where some dogs were drinking and this man went over to take a sip as well. This was his watering hole, so to speak.
A different professor of mine taught a class called Listen, Organize, Act, which essentially argued that no matter where we live, we have a moral obligation to:
1) Listen to the cries of the poor, then...
2) Organize/Analyze/Plan how to best help the poor, then...
3) Act accordingly.
So, in this case, having these kids go through my mind on repeat or privately lamenting their penury doesn’t do a heck of a lot for them. But, also, doing only one or two of the three doesn’t do much either. Coming into a new situation with a pre-conceived formula and applying it mechanically will likely lead to wasted effort. Or listening to the problems and jumping in before doing power analyses, relational work, research, and the like may fail as well. Or, in the spirit of The Life of Brian’s People’s Front of Judea, perpetually meeting, planning, then re-meeting and planning becomes ad nauseam ad finitum. So…
Listen: 1) a majority of the villages surrounding Kasana-Luweero do not have access to clean water, 2) a majority of the children in Kasana-Luweero either cannot afford to go to school or their families must break the bank for them to do so, and 3) a majority of those who even can attend school only have enough money to drink ground-corn mixed with hot milk.
Organize: This part has been done by the organization Share the Blessings. They have a water program that builds wells for $4,000-ish and they shoot to build two every year. They have a sponsorship program for individual children and I’m currently working on making a safety-net fund for those who can make most of the payment but may fall a bit short. Their newest endeavor is the lunch program that for about $30 per year enables the students to eat beans and rice in addition to their corn drink.
Act: Now comes Hecka Walk, my attempt to do what I can to raise money to contribute to all three. I put $50,000 solely as a Cool Hand Luke reference (“It seemed a nice round number”), though of course I would be ecstatic about raising that much. At the bare minimum, I want to get the money for their anticipated two wells ($8,000ish) and, since this is cut into thirds, that would imply I’m hoping to raise about $25,000 over the course of my 5,000 mile walk.
Though I’ve got a truckload of thoughts on the matter, I suppose I should come to a close, perhaps with the comment that I’m an American and a Peregrine, and I guess that makes me an Amerigrine. If you're an Amerigrine as well, please contribute to Hecka Walk in the way you see fit. And despite what Pilgrim’s Progress tells us, Hecka Walk is by no acceptable standard a solo venture, but rather a collection of co-peregrines working together to help the least of these.
[At this blessing of a new well by Father Joe, this lady was able to pump water in her village for the first time in her life and know that her grandkids on the left won't have to drink out of puddles and ponds anymore. If Hecka Walk goes as planned, heaps more villagers will get this same blessing.]
- Nancy Owen
- Braymer UMC
- Laura Teuscher
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