Walking for Uganda
By Vanessa Miller, Camera Staff Writer
Three years ago, Donasian Ochola was walking alone in the "bush" of northern Uganda, fighting for his life.
On Saturday, the 42-year-old University of Colorado student marched with more than 100 people through the streets of Boulder, fighting for the lives of those who remain in the war-torn African nation.
"It's bad. In the country, there are 2 million people displaced," Ochola said, before joining a crowd outside the University Memorial Center in the Second Annual GuluWalk — a one-day, worldwide event to raise awareness and support for abandoned children in Uganda's north.
"It's like a giant concentration camp there," Ochola said. "One thousand people die there every week."
The Boulder men and women who walked for 45 minutes in frigid temperatures Saturday were among tens of thousands of people in more than 85 cities and 14 countries who took to the streets as messengers of hope this weekend.
Two Canadians started the international event last year to help the estimated 40,000 children who are fighting to survive in the midst of Uganda's 20-year civil war. Many children escape death every night by walking from rural villages into the town of Gulu and other urban centers for safer sleeping conditions, according to event sponsors. Those who stay home risk abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army.
Organizers thought an international walk would be a good way to raise awareness about the "night commuters" and launch an urgent movement for peace.
This year's goal: Get 10,000 people to donate $100 each, and raise $1 million for education, rehabilitation and support programs for the African kids.
Boulder's Bead for Life store, 1143 Portland Place, rallied local participation last fall for the inaugural event. This year, Bead for Life's CU student chapter organized the walk, a dinner and a dance on campus.
Ochola said his parents and siblings are still in Uganda, and he's overwhelmed by the local support for their cause.
"It's good to make people know what is happening in Uganda," he said. "If there was an outcome, it would be fabulous."
The third-year molecular biology student moved here in 2003 on a student visa. Ochola was able to bring his wife and two young daughters to Boulder a year later.
"I had to ask them to come over because I couldn't concentrate," he said.
But he doesn't have enough money to move the rest of his family here, Ochola said.
"It's difficult," he said.
Before the walk started Saturday, the Boulder initiative had already raised $3,000, said Erin Fischer, co-organizer of the local event. She said the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and the Arts and Sciences Student Government gave a combined $1,000 for the dinner and dance.
According to the event's 2006 mission statement on its Web site at
www.guluwalk.com, organizers are "looking for 10,000 reasons for hope."
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St., donated $1,000 for the children, and individual donors swapped contributions for orange shirts, bracelets and hats that read, "I'm a reason for hope in northern Uganda. Are you?"
Jamie Connolly, 19, said she didn't know about the Ugandan crisis, but she learned about the walk in one of her classes.
"If we don't know about it, how can we help," said the CU sophomore, before donning an orange support shirt and marching behind her peers Saturday evening.
Anyone wanting to contribute to the cause can visit the event's Web site at www.guluwalk.com/donate or call (416) 686-1533.