Your Grandma’s got nothing on Deborah Walters. The 63-year-old grandmother of four from Troy, Maine, is well on her way paddling from Maine to Guatemala to benefit the children living in and around the huge Guatemala City garbage dump. At press time she was past the first leg of her planned 2,500-mile solo kayak expedition.
On July 12, Deborah Walters launched her sea kayak into the Atlantic in Yarmouth, Maine, and she’s been paddling ever since. Walters, a retired research scientist, is paddling solo down the U.S. Atlantic coast to the southern tip of Florida, where she’ll then sail with a friend to Central America. From there, she’ll continue south in her stitch-and-glue plywood kayak to Guatemala.
Her Kayak for Safe Passage Kids project aims to raise awareness and funds for a school for children living in poverty in Guatemala City. Her fundraising goal is $150,000 — enough to add third- and fourth-grade classes to a school funded by Maine-based nonprofit Safe Passage.
Walters is paddling 385 pounds of supplies in a custom, redesigned 18-foot Chesapeake Light Craft kayak, full of camping gear, food, water, clothing and reams of technology. So far, fighting the currents and confused seas and dealing with dense fog have been her biggest challenges.
“I’ve camped on pristine wild islands, and been hosted at tony yacht clubs,” she says in an update to Explorer’s News. “In every town, people tell me that the next harbor along is the one where they almost lost their boat on the rocks or got swept away by the strong currents. It’s a good thing I am not easily frightened, and can use their advice to double-check the charts and other navigation resources.”
Walters, who’s been kayaking since 1981 and volunteering in Guatemala for nine years, has eight states and two countries to go in her endeavor. She says that while she’s paddled for a long time, this is the first time she’s done so to raise awareness and funds for a charity.
“Most of my solo trips have been in the Arctic—through the Northwest Passage in the central Arctic, down the Mackenzie River, and along the Hudson Bay coast from Baker Lake to Chesterfield Inlet,” she tells EN. “This is the first time I’ve done a trip for a cause and that’s made it so different. On a trip for myself, I can stop when I want to stop. But now, because of speaking engagements I’ve had to paddle on some days when I shouldn’t just to keep to the schedule. It’s been more strenuous.”
But she relishes what it means for Guatemalan children. “In all my volunteering there I’ve learned that their greatest wish is for their children to go to school. Since Safe Passage began 15 years ago, many of these children have graduated and gone to university and gotten jobs. I’m convinced that with just a little help from people around the world we really can break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala.”
She’s doing it one stroke at a time.