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I was hailing a boda boda (motorcycle taxi), when I heard a voice behind me ask if I would buy him some bread.

When I turned around I saw a barefooted boy about 12 years old. His short, black, curly hair was rusty-red from the dust of the iron rich african soil. His torn and faded blazer covered a stained and tattered t-shirt. His dirty oversized trousers cinched tight with a frayed nylon rope. 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates there are 2.7 million orphans in Uganda, and approximately 10,000 of these children live on the streets. Poverty and HIV/AIDS are the main cause of the crisis.

When I looked at this kid, I was reminded of a story about an orphaned boy that was chased down and beaten to death by a mob, not far from where we stood, for stealing a piece of bread. He was only nine years old. 

The police rarely investigate crimes against homeless children, as they are seen as criminals and thieves by the police and the community. 

A few years ago, the local police rounded up the street kids, loaded them into a lorry, then drove to the forest and dumped them. One boy hid to avoid being taken, but later, when he was discovered by the police, he was taken to the stadium and shot dead. He was 14 years old.

I walked with the boy to a nearby market, but he was hesitant to follow me inside. When we entered, I soon understood his hesitation, as all eyes were on him as he perused the shelves of bread. He quickly chose a loaf, then carried it to the cash register. He placed the bread on the counter, mumbled something to the store clerk, then immediately left the market. 

After I paid the clerk, he bagged the bread, but then, instead of handing it to me, he set it to the side. He explained that the boy would return later for the bread because if he were to take it with him, the older boys would steal it from him.  

I left the market and found the boy waiting outside. He thanked me, then hailed a boda boda. 

Through no fault of his own he is left to fend for himself. Instead of being embraced with love and compassion by the community, many of these kids are mentally, physically and sexually abused and exploited, with limited, or no access to an education, medical care, food and shelter.

As I rode away, I thought about the white loaf of bread he had chosen, and how it wouldn’t provide his malnourished body with the nutrients needs, it would only serve to dull his hunger. With the sun dipping below the horizon and the temperature cooling, I couldn’t help but wonder where he would sleep that night.

Fetching Water

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At the Kitojo Community Vocational Institute in Kabale, Uganda I noticed Agnes ambling up the steep driveway carrying three jerrycans. I ran after her and asked if I could accompany her. She nodded yes, then handed me a jerrycan. The school is building additional classrooms and Agnes is responsible for collecting the water needed to mix the concrete.

We walked the dusty red road that led to a well-trodden path into the village. The water tap is located in the center of the village behind a small mud hut.

Five years ago, the government connected the village to the national water supply. The villagers pay 200 Ugandan shillings, (.50 USD), for each jerrycan of water. Before the water tap was installed, the villagers had to walk several miles, high into the hills to fetch water, but now they are within a few minutes walk of clean drinking water.

We placed the containers on the ground then Agnes began to remove the lid from each of the containers and placed one jerrycan at a time beneath the spout until each of them was full. With a combined weight of 120 lbs, her task of fetching water is still not easy. I picked up one of the jerrycans by the handle and followed Agnes back to the school. The weight was cumbersome, and with each step the container seemed to become heavier. As I passed through the village I could hear the adults laughing as I battled with the container, and several children yelled out, “Mzungu!, Mzungu!” (Mzungu is a term used to refer to someone with “white skin” or a foreigner.) I imagine it was amusing to the villagers to watch the mzungu struggle to carry a SINGLE jerrycan.

Agnes had almost reached the school when she looked back and noticed my slow progress. She set her jerrycans down and walked back to me. She removed a wrap from around her waist, coiled it up and placed it on my head. Then she lifted the 40lb jerrycan and placed it on the cloth.

I had attracted a crowd and the villagers watched every labored step as I clutched the bright yellow container. With the jerrycan balanced precariously on my head, the slightest movement caused the water to slosh within the container, making it increasingly difficult to balance. “One hand, one hand!,” a woman shouted as I plodded forward. I decided if I was going to fetch water, I should carry the water like a native. I carefully released my tight grip from the handle and lowered my arm. I took a step forward and the sloshing water nearly caused me to lose my balance, so I quickly returned my hand to steady the jerrycan, which seemed to humor the villagers.

Embarrassed, but determined, I trudged down the uneven rock-strewn dirt road. Lactic acid built up in my shoulder muscles causing them to burn, and I could feel the weight of the water compressing my spine. As I walked down the steep driveway to the school, my legs began to tremble and I feared they would falter beneath the weight of the water, but somehow I managed to reach the bottom of the hill and Agnes helped me lower the jerrycan to the ground. I had only walked a short distance but I was exhausted. Fetching water is no easy task. I sat down on chair beneath a nearby tree, and as I leaned back and closed my eyes, there was a tap on my shoulder. When I opened my eyes Agnes handed me a jerrycan and said “Let’s go!”

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As I lazily wandered beneath a canopy of pine and cork trees, my attention was drawn to a set of animal prints on a nearby trail. I followed them down the narrow path which led to an old forgotten road. The paw prints were abruptly interrupted by a puddle of water that remained from a recent rainfall. I sidestepped to avoid it and its muddy rim and was reminded of my mission and the millions of women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I knelt beside it for several moments and watched an insect dance across the puddles surface and skirt the water’s edge.

The sad reality is that millions upon millions of women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa will walk several miles to a waterhole similar to the one I stumbled upon to fetch water.

And for all their effort, they are not rewarded with clean water, instead, the filthy contaminated water they gather for their family to drink, cook and perform household duties can transmit diseases such as: diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, polio, and dysentery.

In Africa, more than 315,000 children die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized water and sanitation as a human right. And yet, 780 million people STILL lack access to safe drinking water.

Glass of dysentery, anyone?

Dionne Haroutunian

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I was exploring the blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco, when by fortuitous circumstance or fate, I met Dionne Haroutunian and Mike Cooks.

Dionne is a gifted artist and avid motorcyclist, from Seattle, Washington, and she aspires to foster world peace one friendship at a time by traveling the world by motorcycle to meet people, experience their culture, share hers and form lasting friendships, thereby forming a “human blanket.” Dionne strongly believes that personal relationships are the key to a better world. She is accompanied by Mike, a fellow motorcyclist, adventurer, and photographer, who is documenting Dionne’s mission

We spent many hours discussing our respective missions, sharing our motivations and our struggles, laughter and tears, and an adventure which led us to a remote Berber village. (More on that coming soon.)

To underestimate Dionne with her pink hair and wondrous spirit would be foolish. Her unwavering commitment to making the world a better place is to be commended and she will do it one friendship at a time.

Learn more about Dionne and her mission by visiting her website: 4artandadventure.com

World Toilet Day

Some awesome folks in Killyleagh, Northern Ireland squatting to raise awareness of the more than one billion people who face the indignity of open defecation.

Some awesome folks in Killyleagh, Northern Ireland squatting to raise awareness of the more than one billion people who face the indignity of open defecation.

We call it by many names: The loo, the porcelain throne, the john, the crapper, the turd tube. The toilet doesn’t get the respect it deserves. We take it for granted, yet according to Water.org, “No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet.”

The United Nations observes November 19th, as World Toilet Day, to highlight the 2.5 billion people in the world that don’t have access to a toilet.

Poo is a crappy subject, and while everyone does it, no one wants to talk about it. “This lack of access is a ‘silent crisis’ that has claimed more casualties through illness than any conflict.”(United Nations 2015)

Sanitation is a human right.

Yet, 893 million people practice open defecation, which is emptying the bowels outside in fields, forests, bushes, and bodies of water rather than into a toilet.

The practice poses serious risk to human health and the environment.

It contaminates water sources and spreads diseases including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and diarrhea.

Every 20 seconds a child dies from diseases caused by fecal contamination.

And not having a toilet at home is dangerous for women since each time a woman uses the outdoors to relieve herself, she is vulnerable to physical or sexual assault.

Providing everyone with access to a toilet saves lives, dignity and protects the environment.

I will end with this slogan from the World Toilet Organization:

I give a shit, do you?

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When I was in elementary school a guest speaker spoke of the devastating famine that affected Ethiopia from 1983-1985. It was the first famine to strike the country in a century, and it claimed one million lives. She displayed distressing photographs of Ethiopian children with spindly limbs, large heads, and bloated bellies. I was disturbed by the images, and I couldn’t believe there were children halfway around world with lives so different than my own. I’d previously never given much thought to the world beyond my own backyard.

It was a defining moment that enlightened me to the struggles many people endure on our planet.

A visit to Nicaragua rekindled those emotions when I watched women collect water from a nearby river. Collectively, women and girls spend 200 million hours a day fetching water, or 22,800 years. It would be as if a woman in the stone age started with an empty bucket and did not arrive home with water until 2016. Water is a basic human right, and women and girls should not be squandering their precious time collecting it. Women need their time to do other things, and girls should be carrying school books instead of jerrycans.

Cashel to Blarney

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In Cashel, I was inspired to write. I’ve been writing a memoir for over a year and it’s been a very slow process, but surrounded by a castle, a ruined abbey, and green rolling hills, the words flowed easily from my pen and I spent several days hunkered down in my tent writing until hunger, thirst, mother nature and ultimately, the call of the open road beckoned.

In Ballylooby, I enjoyed a night at the Kilcoran Lodge Hotel. There I met Christine, an Irish American woman from New York. She was in Ireland visiting family and tending to the family home. She was incredibly engaging, and having spent the past several days in relative solitude, I relished the good conversation that continued long past midnight. In the morning, I packed up and walked towards Mitchelstown. Bernie, a woman I had met at the hotel, contacted the local radio station, Tipp FM, and as I entered the village of Mitchelstown, I was approached by Tipp FM producer, Ben Sweeney. He walked about a mile with me, while pulling my cart. We were soon met by two garda, John and Morris. After a few photos, he concluded his interview and we parted ways.

The next two days, Storm Callum brought lots of rain as I made my way toward Cork, but on Saturday, I woke to a beautiful, sunshiny day. I was grateful for the good weather, but the road to Blarney was a continuous climb. One hill followed by another, and there appeared to be no end in sight. During the last couple miles, my legs had become like JELL-O. I struggled as I pulled Magellan up the hill. I was halfway up when a woman stopped her car to ask me what I was doing. My legs quivered as I stood on the steep incline, clenching onto the handles of my cart, worried my legs were going to collapse from fatigue. Then, her husband Michael, gets out the car, and pulls Magellan the last half mile to the top of road. I was absolutely giddy. :)

After setting up my tent I was visited by a warm affectionate cat. It was a chilly night, so the two of us shared a sleeping bag until morning.

I will stay in Blarney for a few days to explore the area, and with a little bit of luck, and a kiss of the Blarney stone, I will be endowed with the gift of gab.

Durrow to Cashel

Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel

I arrived in Cashel, the City of Kings. The road to Cashel was a time of reflection.

The miles have become easier each day, and my mind is no longer focused on the physical demands of my journey, instead my thoughts have turned within.

In many ways, I am not the same person that began this trek. The road has molded and shaped me to survive, and at times, I feel a stranger to myself.

And while this trek has come at great personal sacrifice, I feel in my heart of hearts, I’m exactly where I belong.

Kilcullen to Durrow

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I love Irish hospitality. I find the Irish to be welcoming and supportive of my cause. Many people will stop their cars to chat with me or honk their horn in support. When I arrived in Athy, I met two women, a mother and a daughter that lived in town. They saw me walking down to the river for a photo and stopped me. After a bit of conversation, I was invited to their home for dinner that evening. Over a nice meal of trout, beets, vegetables and potatoes, and the best homemade apple tart that I have EVER tasted, I learned Kate co-produced a documentary named Naledi, and it had been nominated for Outstanding Nature Documentary at The News and Documentary Emmy Awards. The film is on Netflix, so if you get a chance, check it out. The next day on my way to The Swan, I found the hills to be a challenge, especially an area known as Wolfhill. I was ready to ditch my heavy trolley, Magellan, as I made my way up the appropriately named hill. But I was soon rewarded for my efforts, when a woman named Carmel, and her mother, Anne, invited me into their home for tea and a sandwich. Carmel’s mother had seen me on the road earlier that day and it was a welcomed break. I didn’t stay long, as it was getting late and I needed to find a place to pitch my tent for the night. Someone had suggested I inquire at the pub in town about a room. When I walked in, George, the owner, was sitting at the bar reading a newspaper. I asked him if he had lodging, but he was hesitant, as he no longer operates as an Inn. But then, he led me back to a room. Later, when I tried to pay him, he refused. I departed in the morning, and I made my way to Durrow via Abbeyleix. It was a beautiful day on Thursday and the scenery was breathtaking. When I arrived at my accommodation in Durrow, I was welcomed with salt, soda and a basin to soak my tired feet. A nice way to end the day. :)

Kilcullen to Cork

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CPC Students

I set off from Kilcullen, Ireland, Tuesday morning with some students from Cross and Passion College, which also welcomed me to Kilcullen last May. My Newbridge friends Michael O., Noel H., Susan R., and John M. have worked tirelessly to bring attention to my mission. They have been a godsend, and I will miss them as I make my way to Cork. TD Martin Heydon stated my meeting with Minister Simon Coveney will happen sooner rather than later. I’m happy to be back on the road. :)