Kayaker raising funds for Guatemalan children

Deborah Walters may be traveling alone on a 2,500-mile journey, but she's meeting many friends along the way.

The scientist and Rotary Club member is paddling in a yellow kayak from her hometown in Maine to Guatemala to help children living in a garbage dump in Guatemala City.

Several months into her journey, she stopped this month in the region - staying overnight in Westerly, Noank, Niantic, Old Saybrook and Clinton. Rotary club members are hosting her overnight at stops along the eastern seaboard.

Near the Niantic Bay Yacht Club on the morning of Sept. 3, Walters made her way through the water, paddling against the wind in her bright yellow kayak.

"Welcome," shouted Susan Wheeler, a member and past president of the Niantic Rotary, as Walters approached the dock.

Walters had set out early in the morning to travel from Noank to Niantic, one leg of a journey where she is averaging 13 miles a day.

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 is trying to raise $150,000, according to the Safe Passage website, www.safepassage.org/Kayak. She accepts donations from people who pledge to sponsor her per mile through the website. She also has corporate sponsors.

She stopped in Niantic to speak to the Niantic Rotary Club at a luncheon at Flanders Fish Market and then stayed overnight with Wheeler.

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," she said.

Walters decided to combine her passion for helping children with her passion for long-distance kayaking.

She reported on Sept. 3 that she had traveled 13 percent of her distance and made 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.

The Niantic Rotary has about 37 members. The club and its foundation sponsor local agencies through grants, provide scholarships for East Lyme High School students and undertake community projects. The club recently helped refurbish the kitchen at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Kari-Hill Post 5849 in Niantic, said Wheeler.

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.




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