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Volunteers can walk the walk too!
by Dr. Onuoha Clement*

A view of the Walk Against Child Hunger moving through the streets of Rio Claro in Trinidad and Tobago on 21 May 2006. 
(Photo: UNV Trinidad & Tobago)A view of the Walk Against Child Hunger moving through the streets of Rio Claro in Trinidad and Tobago on 21 May 2006. (Photo: UNV Trinidad & Tobago)
04 September 2006

Rio Claro, Trinidad & Tobago: It was in April 2006 that we came to know about the World Food Programme’s Walk Against Child Hunger scheduled for 21 May. My colleague Dr. Veena Murlidhar and I met to discuss how we could implement it in our own little way. We planned to organize a walk on the day and hoped that as many as 50 walkers would join us. Accordingly, we informed the municipal police.

After days of intense canvassing, it was clear that our colleagues at the Rio Claro Health Facility centre were not very enthusiastic about the walk and the patients had other problems to grapple with.

We changed our strategy. I held the fort at the clinics while Dr. Murlidhar approached the community directly with our proposal. As a result, we had more groups, organizations and people volunteering to participate in our walk.

The Pathfinder club of the Seventh-Day Adventists registered about 250 walkers, accompanied by their band. Their theatre group offered to present the effect of hunger.

The Scouts group of Mayaro/Rio Claro also volunteered to appear in uniform, along with a band. The “Soca warriors” – the football supporters’ club of the Trinidad and Tobago national team – prepared to use the opportunity to promote the country’s debut in the World Cup.

By the time we met all stakeholders, we were budgeting for over 500 walkers! And we had to update our figures with the police, to their amazement.

As the event approached, the news of the walk had spread, with more people offering to participate in one way or the other. Groceries and supermarkets offered to supply drinking water for the walkers, textile companies offered to produce T-shirts, caterers volunteered to supply refreshments, farmers offered to supply water melons, musicians offered to join and to provide their public address systems.

The walk had the town excited with intense promotion. Our banners hung at strategic locations; groceries and supermarkets advertised the walk at their stores; countless handbills – voluntarily produced by printers – bombarded drivers, school children and others.

Once the event was covered by the local radio, the response got bigger. UNV volunteers from other centres volunteered to join us with their own contingents. Others followed: the local Calypso band, the local wellness center, the Caribbean Cable Network, the local Guardian Newspapers, the Lions Club of Mayaro, and the Rio Claro Action Committee, to name a few.

The UN office in Port of Spain backed our initiative by cancelling similar walks being planned elsewhere. The steering committee of key interest groups led the preparations, sometimes meeting late into the nights.

On the D-day, 21 May, the Walk Against Child Hunger set off at seven in the morning with the Scout band leading and police clearing the way. The Calypso band pulled the rear. In between, the public address system invited everyone to join the walk. It took many people by surprise: motorists, women traders in the market, and passers-by wondered what was going on.

The walk progressed well, interspersed with various attractions, including a football about 30 times the size of a normal one and a five-year-old girl dressed in rags dancing along, depicting hunger and poverty. A number of water-stops and the joy saved participants from exhaustion. The standby ambulance remained unused. It nevertheless added colour to the event.

At the end of the 11-kms-long walk, many enthusiasts still wanted to continue further! They were greeted by the representatives of the UN Resident Representative in the country, the district medical director and others.

According to the Fight Hunger website, www.FightHunger.org 760,000 walkers in 118 countries had walked and raised over US$ 5 million – just enough to feed 202,105 hungry children out of three million worldwide.

As for our walk itself, people see its results from different perspectives. The Rio Claro community is amazed that it was the only one in the Caribbean islands to host this global event, thus finding a place in the world map!

As a participant put it: “It’s marvellous that the UN could, in the true spirit of volunteerism, bring together a Nigerian from Africa and an Indian from Asia to work harmoniously in Trinidad and Tobago – a place of multi-racial ethnicity – to bring food and joy to numerous children all over the world irrespective of race and creed. What an amazing investment in unity!!”

On our part, we were happy to have demonstrated that our volunteer calling is not limited to our professional assignments as medical doctors. Rather, when the need arises, volunteers can work and walk the walk too. If this is not volunteerism, then what else is?

“Volunteerism is primarily a selfless act, giving freely of one’s time for the benefit of others while building new friendships in a spirit of reciprocity.” This aspect makes volunteerism very interesting.

(* Dr. Onuoha Clement is a surgeon presently working as a UNV volunteer at the Department of Surgery in Sangre-Grande Hospital in the eastern region of Trinidad and Tobago.)

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)