#WalkOfHope in Wajir, 400 kilometers into epic trek

@WalkOfHope participants with students in Wajir. [Photo courtesy of  Ali AwDoll]

#WalkOfHope participants with students in Wajir. [Photo courtesy of Ali AwDoll]

#WalkofHope participants in northeastern Kenya covered 400 kilometers by Thursday evening, half way through the 800 kilometers trek.

The trek, which began June 13 at the Tana River bridge in Garissa County with about 300 volunteers and aimed at creating awareness about the region’s insecurity and underdevelopment, made its way to Wajir town June 25 with only seven trekkers remaining.

Led by activist and author Salah Abdi Sheikh, the trekkers dodged snakes, scorpions and endured the region’s blistering temperatures in their epic journey.

The walkers are expected to terminate their journey at Border Point one in Mandera County.

Salah told Sahan Journal in Wajir town that the feeling of covering 400km from Garissa was a great motivator.

“It has not been a walk in the park. The merciless sun has tested our mental and physical limits and determination,” he said. “We are halfway. Unless something extraordinary happens, we intend to complete the remaining 400 kilometers.”

Barely a day into the walk, the more than 300 residents who availed themselves for the flagging off of the walk dropped out for various reasons. However, in Wajir many have promised to join them in the remaining trek.

Despite the challenges, the walkers have been encouraged by the warm reception and support accorded by the community. In all the settlements they have passed villagers have come out to receive them dancing and singing.

“We have been living off the generosity and hospitality of our people. In some villages residents have even gone ahead to slaughter livestock for us. We are overwhelmed by our people’s support,” Salah said.

Salah said that even officials of national and county governments have come out to receive and encourage them.In addition, the media attention has been encouraging, he said.

When the organizers of the walk of hope floated the idea, there were critics and opponents of the Idea. Several critics took to social media to roundly dismiss the walk as inconsequential and refused to have anything do with it.

Noordin Badel, a football coach and one of the walk organizers told Sahal Journal that his training sessions with his club in Nairobi had helped him in the trek.

“I kept fit in preparations for the walk. We have walkers who had never participated in health and fitness exercises. Some have spent virtually their entire life in cities. However, their determination for the #WalkofHope cause has seen them through arguably the toughest terrain in Kenya,” he said.

Badel said the greatest challenge has been trekking during the Holy month of Ramadan and proving the sceptics wrong.

“There are sceptics who thought we came up with #WalkOfHope to coincide with Ramadan in order to exempt ourselves from fasting. But we are Muslims and fasting during Ramadan is an obligation we are performing,” he said.

In addition, the group said it had underestimated the distance between settlements.

Badel said they had planned to sleep in settlements but they have, on various nights, been forced to sleep in the wilderness because they were unable to reach the next settlements by nightfall.

“Some settlements are more than 50 kilometers apart and it is a challenge to walk to reach them,” he said.

He said during the walk they have had to fend off snakes, scorpions and bugs.

He said Ramadan, coupled with the scorching sun, forced them to adjust the time of walking to late in the evenings and early mornings.

“In between the day, we engage the community in discussions and sell to them our purpose of the walk,” he said.

The youngest trekker in the group is 18-year-old Fuad Abdirahman.

Abdirahman who completed his secondary education from Garissa High School last year told Sahal Journal that he is determined to complete the epic journey. He described the walk as a learning experience for him.

“I had never been past Garissa before. This walk has offered me an opportunity to witness firsthand the level of underdevelopment in my region. So far the walk has been an eye opener,” he said.

Abdirahman said he left the comfort of his home to experience how it feels to drink unsafe and saline water with villagers.

“With this experience, I can now rightfully articulate the problem of our people and demand better things,” he said.

One of the critics of #WalkOfHope was Ali AwDoll, 38, who said he differed with the timing of the walk.

AwDoll told Sahal Journal that he wanted the walk to start from Mandera and end in Nairobi “probably at President’s office [Harambee House] or State House.”

“After failing to have my way I did not want anything to do with the walk,” he said. However, with time he changed his mind and gradually brought into the idea. On June 22, AwDoll joined the group in Habaswein.

“I came to realize the nobility of the walk as [something] timely,” he said. “The issues I raised at inception have been overtaken by events. I have been received very well and I am determined to support and walk the remaining distance.”

Reflecting on the remaining 400 kilometer trek from Wajir to Mandera, Salah said the group is optimistic of completing.

“If the goodwill we have received from Garissa to Wajir is anything to go by, we hope for the best in the remaining distance,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are also conscious to the fact of the recent clan animosity and violence along the Wajir – Mandera road.”

“But we will walk regardless of if there are people with ill motives along the way,” he added.

Salah said that the clan animosity and wars are among the things that they would want the community to discard to spur development in the region.

Boniface Ongeri is a Sahan Journal contributor. 

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