By Ali Sirois
Pat Gould and Kim Letson are not ones to shy away from a challenge, and this fall they’ve decided to take on yet another. From September to October, the two friends from the Comox Valley in British Columbia will be walking through three countries along the 1,000-kilometre Via Egnatia route in southeastern Europe to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s annual Walk Without Borders challenge.
Experienced long-distance walkers and world travellers, Pat and Kim were excited to get started. As Kim says, “it didn't take me long to agree to this enterprise.” An old Roman road, the Via Egnatia begins in Durres, Albania, on the Adriatic coast and continues through the Republic of Macedonia and Greece, Pat and Kim’s final destination, before ending in Istanbul, Turkey.
When Pat — who has previously worked overseas with MSF helping to deliver medical care in Liberia, Bangladesh and Nigeria — heard about the Walk Without Borders Challenge, it seemed only natural to register. “I didn’t want to let the fundraising opportunity pass me by,” she says.
Pat and Kim registered as the team 2 Women Walking, and began raising funds, walking in solidarity with MSF patients like Mohammed, who was forced from his home in Syria, along with his family, to make a difficult journey by sea and foot looking for safety and a better future. They are keeping a blog during their journey.
Walking in solidarity with MSF patients
As Pat notes, “the places we are walking through are some of the countries where Syrian refugees are settling in or fleeing through in order to escape conflict in their own countries.” A record number of refugees are making the dangerous journey over the Mediterranean and Aegean seas in order to escape conflict, persecution and trauma in their homelands, and thousands of displaced people are making their way through the Balkans to central Europe in search of peace and security.
During their trek, Pat and Kim have already crossed paths with some Syrian families, who they met while passing through a small town in Albania. Their encounter was not an entirely heartwarming one however, as the stories they heard were mostly about the continuing struggle to be accepted by a new community. “We are sad to witness their isolation and conflict persisting as refugees,” Pat says.
Kim points out that, for many migrants, arrival in Europe in only the beginning of an uncertain journey. “Sadly many humans are still walking to simply try to stay alive, escaping war, famine and other disasters. While many walk with the compulsion to survive driving them forward, Pat and I are walking as a way to cross borders.”
To date, Pat and Kim have walked more than 350 km, crossing into Greece and already far surpassing their fundraising goal of $1,000. While they still have a ways to go, they are enjoying the challenge. “This way of slow exploration allows us to learn about ourselves and those we meet along the way,” reflects Kim. “Now, thanks to the Walk Without Borders Challenge, we also have a means to raise a little money for MSF’s worthwhile lifesaving endeavours.”