ENCINITAS – It was only day three of their journey. Blisters had formed on the bottoms of their feet, the ropes, holding 50 pounds or more of wood to their backs, were cutting into their shoulders; but all the while they were doing it there was a smile on their faces and they were happy to know that what they were doing was helping to raise awareness.
They are Greg Spencer and his son Gregory.
Thursday was the third day of their wood walk, which was taking them from Sea World to West Hollywood, Calif. – 136 miles away. They expected to reach their destination Oct. 13. On their backs were strapped gnarled eucalyptus tree branches (just over 50 pounds’ worth for Greg, over 60 pounds for Gregory).
Spencer is co-founder and chairman of The Paradigm Project, a group created in 2009 with the intent to help empower developing countries.
“Our mission is to develop sustainable, economic, environmental and socially beneficial projects in the developing world,” Spencer said. “We’re implementing that mission right now through a fuel-efficient stove project in Kenya, which is fully-funded to deliver 400,000 fuel-efficient cook stoves.”
The stoves play an important part because women worldwide, especially in Africa, are having to walk miles upon miles in order to obtain fire wood to be able to provide for their families.
“They have to do this in order to eat,” Spencer said. “The problem is that the forests are declining rapidly, so they’re walking further and further. There are places in Africa that are still incredibly unsafe and dangerous and so women are at risk when they do it. They spend 30 to 35 hours a week, gathering wood,” Spencer said.
He believes that at some point, developing countries will have an energy infrastructure, but said that until then these fuel-efficient wood fire cook stoves save them half of their time, preserve trees, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save thousands of lives.
“While it’s hard to appreciate in our culture, it literally completely transforms a family’s life,” Spencer said.
As the pair kept walking, Spencer knew that the pain he and his son were going through was only temporary and he would keep reminding himself that women in the developing world didn’t have the choice of stopping.
“This is symbolic for us,” he said. “It’s a matter of life and death for them.”
The stoves, Spencer said, would allow women to gain extra time to spend with their families, allow women the time to earn an income through other work and allow their children to return to school.
Since they’ve started walking, they’ve been getting a mixed response from people passing by, Gregory explained. “We have been heckled a little bit. People are like, ‘Hey, nice wood bundle.’ A big majority has been encouraging. Whenever you do something unusual, you’re going to get heckled,” he said.
“It’s all right,” said Spencer. “If no one heckled us, we would wonder whether it was really that unusual.”
To follow the walkers’ trek, to donate or learn more about the organization, visit theparadigmproject.org.