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East Lyme - Near the Niantic Bay Yacht Club, Deborah Walters made her way Wednesday morning through the water, paddling against the wind in a bright yellow kayak.
"Welcome," shouted Susan Wheeler, a member and past president of the Niantic Rotary, as Walters approached the dock.
Walters, a scientist and Rotary Club member, had set out early Wednesday morning to travel from Noank to Niantic. The trip represented just one leg of a 2,500-mile journey from her hometown in Maine to Guatemala.
Walters said she is aiming to raise awareness and funds for Safe Passage, a nonprofit organization to help children living in the Guatemala City garbage dump, which she learned about through the Rotary. She stopped Wednesday in town to speak to the Niantic Rotary Club, which has about 37 members.
Walters said she was inspired to take the journey after visiting the garbage dump and meeting the families that earn a living by scavenging: "The parents just want their kids to be able to go to school and have a better life."
Walters decided to combine her passion for helping children with her passion for long-distance kayaking.
She cheerfully reported on Wednesday that she has thus far traveled 13 percent of her distance and raised about 43 percent of her fundraising goal. She ultimately wants to turn an after-school third- and fourth-grade program into a full-day of school for the students.
After making recent stops in Westerly and Noank, she will depart this morning from Niantic for Old Saybrook and then Clinton on her way to Guatemala. Members of the Rotary are hosting her at most locations.
Walters is staying in town with Wheeler, who said she enjoys hosting people. She has hosted other guests through a Rotary exchange program.
"You learn so much," Wheeler said. "You learn all about another culture and community."
Walters said keeping her goal in mind inspires her.
"It's been great fun meeting people along the way, but it's also longer than anything I've done before," she said. "It's a challenge to keep going, but then I think about the kids in Guatemala and what they're going through, and it motivates me."
More information on Safe Passage is available at www.safepassage.org.