Spurred to Action: The Why Behind the Walk
It’s been a few weeks since World Hope International (WHI) Australia’s CEO, Ruth Thomas, launched the Walk4Hope Walkathon. With only a few days left to go, WHI’s Communications Director, Heather Hill, sat down with Ruth to ask her, in her own words, why water, why walking, and what next. Check out the interview and some special videos of other Walk4Hope participants, below!
Heather: Ruth, one of the things you and I both love about WHI is how many important issues it addresses around the world. You could have made the Walk4Hope be about any of these, but you chose water. Why did you want to focus on water?
Ruth: I remember when, back in 2008, we had some work in Mozambique. We were doing water filters with the Wesleyan church. We visited there and went out to a village and the pastor was taking us to the nearest watering hole. He kept saying we’re nearly there but it took forever. It was so far. And so hot, soooo hot, and sticky. And then we finally got there and it was literally a hole–a tiny hole with dirty water and a boy was standing next to it drinking that dirty water. And people in the community were so sick!
Then we were on Level 6 Restrictions for water (which is our highest level, with only 4 minute timed showers permitted) when I got back home from Mozambique. We had a big drought in Queensland at the time, which had started back in 2001. But in early 2004, concern grew and in 2005, the damn levels were down to only 40%. That’s when the restrictions started and ran on increasing from there. No washing cars with hose and you couldn’t hose the cement driveway or water your garden at all, fullstop.
I flew home from Mozambique and the memory of the boy drinking that dirty water; the people, good people, sick in the community because of the water. I got up in the morning and people were whinging and complaining about not being able to water their garden.
I got so angry. Even though we were in restrictions, I kept thinking: it was still clean water.
Then in Jan 2011, the rains finally came and they came and came for maybe two months solid. The river near where we had just moved flooded. When the water subsided, the people on the radio said we need people to come in and just knock on doors and ask if you can help. They called them “the mud army.” That was an amazing community coming together with their brooms and buckets to make a difference for us.
Caitlin is studying Psychology at University right now and she decided to join the Walk4Hope. Here’s what she shared!
I see the impact of clean water. In Papua New Guinea growing up, we just had water tanks. In the dry season, my dad would knock the rings of the tank to see how much water we had left. We never ran out. I never had to go collect water. Where I lived, it was always in the highlands and the water was clean, straight out the mountains or the sky into the tanks, but I know the value of conserving water.
Heather: So, you wanted to focus on water because you have both experienced and observed the profound impact that access to clean water can make on an individual and a community level. Why a walkathon, though?
Ruth: I wanted to think of something everyone could do. Not everyone cycles, swims, or runs marathons, but most people walk. So that’s how we came up with the name.
Heather: Has walking always been a part of your life?
Ruth: Growing up in Papua New Guinea, we just had motorbikes where we lived. I wasn’t old enough, so I walked everywhere. When I went back as an adult with my husband and kids years ago, I would go walking to get out of the house. I just enjoy walking. There are these 2 villages communities that were over mountains there. We were living at 5,000 ft and to get there you had to go over the 7,000 ft mountain.
My mum and dad would do it often and I never did it as a kid. So when I went back as an adult, I determined I would do it to get to Yaluba. That’s where it started, I think.
Heather: That’s really neat that walking is almost an inheritance for you. What’s one of your favourite walking experiences?
Ruth: One time, my husband Dallas was flying back from somewhere and in the airline magazine was an idea to do a self-guided tour to Mont Blanc. I will admit I vowed after that to never say yes as quickly again!
We thought we got ourselves ready and started in Italy and the first day of walking up–I don’t remember the heights–but that first day nearly killed me. In Australia, our highest mountain is 2,000m. Piddlyy nothing. We were starting higher than our highest mountain at home and I thought, what have I done?
But we managed to do it, 4 days up and down. We came down the other side and into Switzerland and my husband kept singing “The Hills are Alive” like Julie Andrews and said he wouldn’t stop until I said I would do it, too, so I said “If I do will you be quiet?” And he said yes, so I did. Walking into the hills like that with the storybook houses and flowerbox windowsills, oh, it was amazing. One of my favourite places I’ve been.
Heather: So, since that epic sounding adventure, have you walked somewhere closer to home more recently, and before starting walking for the Walk4Hope?
Ruth: Yes, my husband and I did Kosciuszko, which is the highest mountain in Australia. We decided to go down there and be on top of it for Christmas. We walked 18km roundtrip on Christmas day, and it was just beautiful up there in the blue–the clear, clear blue air.
“I want them to feel that they have succeeded in whatever their target, big or small. It doesn’t matter what you do; just do something. Everybody’s little bit together makes a big difference. It’s achieving this, and doing it in a community way.”
Heather: You have a lot of people who have joined Walk4Hope as individuals, organisations, and teams, and you just completed a 20km walk with many of them. What would you say keeps you going on these walks?
Ruth: I’d say it’s the determination. I don’t eat the elephant all at once. I remember walking up Mont Blanc and thinking, I’m going to get to that corner and then I’m going to rest. I set myself small targets and when I achieve it, I rest. Then when I rest, I reset the target. I’m not a fast walker, but I get there. That’s in many aspects of my life. I don’t charge ahead, but I take bite sizes and I get there.
Heather: You are getting there! It sounds like Walk4Hope has been an incredible experience for participants – lots of personal challenges and victories, lots of learning, and such a unique opportunity to participate locally in something that has an impact globally. What comes next after this?
Ruth: I hope that Walk4Hope has inspired everyone to take up a campaign for one of the issues we focus on at WHI that really grabs them. Access to clean water mattered to me. It spurred me to start this campaign. I hope everyone is spurred to action, too.