Dear friends, readers,
After a non-stop professional career of 20 years, I feel the time is right to insert a small break. So in July of this year, I am taking leave without pay and going on a sabbatical. It didn’t take me long to figure out how I would want to spend this “free” time.
Even before the Belgian TV-series “man bijt hond” highlighted the pilgrimage to Compostella (Spain), I had been thinking of undertaking a long journey on foot. Initially, I had hoped to be able to do this through Oikoten, a non-profit organization which organizes walking journeys with troubled teens who have spent most of their lives in closed youth-facilities and/or foster homes. The journey is intended to facilitate their reintegration into society. In 2005, Oikoten started an experiment that involved volunteers functioning as counselors and guides accompanying the kids on their trip to Compostella. And although I made it to the final selection rounds, the organizers thought the time was not yet ripe for me to undertake such a journey. They feared that as a father of a young daughter, it would be too difficult for me emotionally to balance missing my daughter while providing guidance to a troubled teen. And indeed, I lacked experience with this age group and the specific needs of this particular group of youths.
However, in 2009 and 2010, I joined some walkers in order to gain some experience. Especially the 3-day walk with Jonathan and Laurent left a big impression on me. Together we conquered the Gran San Bernardo through the Alps and then strode into the Aosta valley in Italy from Switzerland. This incredible experience only reinforced my intentions to one day undertake a similar journey myself.
Because of the new regulations imposed by our government due to budget restrictions, subsidies for Oikoten were cut in 2012. In the meantime, Oikoten and BAS! (another non-profit involved in youth projects) fused together into ALBA vzw (www.alba.be). Sadly, the number of journeys they now undertake is greatly reduced and as a result the chance to join them as guide have become nearly impossible.
So, the idea came to mind to walk my own journey for another goal with societal impact. And here goes! In July 2013, I am leaving from Calais (France) to arrive – approximately 100 days later and 2000 km down the road – in Rome (Italy). I will follow the Via Francigena, which already in the Middle Ages, was one of the most important pilgrimage routes from the North to Rome. The route was first described in 725 CE. And at the end of the 10th c., the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric the Serious, made notes during his own pilgrimage back from Rome. It is his itinerary that is still followed by most pilgrims today on their way to Rome. And it is this itinerary that I too will follow.
Those who know me well, are aware of the fact that I tend to run a little bit behind the times in terms of using social media and that I am also not blessed with the talents of great writers. Still, through this blog, I hope to reach a large group of interested people in the months to come during my preparation time for this trip and then, ultimately, during the trip itself. The ultimate goal is to raise a decent amount of money for a yet-to-be determined good cause. I am thus sending a call out to all of my friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and family to send in a suggestion of a project that is close to your heart by the end of the month via this blog. Via the blog I will then organize a voting so that everyone involved can have a say in the project for which I will be walking.