It is a childhood bedtime ritual inspired by fear, not comfort. Each evening at dusk, as many as 40,000 children in northern Ugandan villages pack their blankets and walk up to 12 kilometres into cities to sleep in shelters. They leave to escape nighttime raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that abducts children and forces them to fight the government’s armed forces. To heighten awareness of the country’s 19-year civil war and raise funds for these “night commuters,” two U of T staff members organized GuluWalk – named for one of the cities where the children seek refuge. Every night in July, Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward (PHE 2000) walked 12.5 kilometres from Toronto’s east end to City Hall. They would sleep a few hours outside, then trek back to their starting point at sunrise before going to work at the Faculty of Physical Education and Health.
“We got so much more media attention than we anticipated and touched enough people that we consider it a success,” says Bradbury, founder of the charitable organization Athletes for Africa. GuluWalk consumed all their non-working hours, disrupted their sleep cycle and caused a few aches and pains, yet both men say motivation was never a problem. “We always knew that July 31 would come, but for the real night commuters there is no end in sight,” says Hayward.
Now that their own walk is over, the two men are planning a one-night event later this fall when mass GuluWalks will take place in cities across the world. In December they hope to travel to Gulu to meet with children. “A kid that lives in a village outside of Gulu should matter just as much as a kid that lives around the corner from me,” says Bradbury. “This kind of thing would never happen in Canada, so why would we let it happen there?”