United against poverty: Church leads walkathon to benefit poor in Africa

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    The Worldwide Walk to Fight Poverty kicks off Saturday at Hilo Bayfront Park. The walk was hosted by the international religious organization Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ).

Despite ongoing seismic and volcanic activity, hundreds of East Hawaii residents participated Saturday in a global walkathon aimed at fighting poverty — and an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.

The 1-mile Worldwide Walk to Fight Poverty was led by the Philippine Christian sect Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ). It began promptly at noon at Hilo Bayfront Park to coincide with walkathons taking place simultaneously at more than 300 sites around the world. This year’s event aimed to raise awareness for poverty in Africa.

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“(Those in Africa) are going through hardships every single day,” said Sean Adam, resident minister of the Keaau Iglesia Ni Cristo sect, which spearheaded the walk in Hilo. “Even though we are maybe going through a roadblock doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing something. We’re walking for them.”

Adam said about 200 people participated in the Hilo walk, hailing from Iglesia Ni Cristo congregations in Keaau, Kailua-Kona, Naalehu and Honokaa. Adam said turnout was slightly lower than organizers hoped, partly because of major earthquakes the day before and ongoing volcanic activity in Leilani Estates.

Adam said church members in the Puna area most effected by the eruptions did not make it, but those who were able did.

Iglesia Ni Cristo conducted its first worldwide poverty walk in 2014 to raise awareness for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Nearly 520,000 people participated in that walk, which set the Guinness record for the largest charity walk in 24 hours in multiple venues.

There has been no official announcement this year about breaking the record, but early estimates show global participation Saturday topped 1.5 million.

“Knowing others are walking too, it feels great to be one of them,” said walker Precila Sagun on Saturday, who said she participated in 2014 in the walkathon’s event in the Philippines. “It’s unity (with) the church. It’s really important for us to show that unity aspect.”

Among the youngest walkers were Fernando Junsay, 8, and James Duayne, 5, each jumping around excitedly before the walk began.

Fernando said he thought it was important to help other people and enjoyed “getting exercise.” James said he looked forward to walking fast during the walk.

The hardest part “is walking slow,” James said.

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The global Iglesia Ni Cristo church said it set at least one new Guinness record for “forming the largest human sentence” on Saturday. About 23,000 walkers formed the sentence “Proud to be a member of Iglesia Ni Cristo.” Hilo walkers didn’t participate in achieving that Guinness feat.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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