‘I could hold them for a while’: Priest’s 21-km walk raises $1,700 for DRC women

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The Rev. Naomi Kabugi walked 21.6 km to raise money for women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "I wasn't doing it as a priest. I was doing it as a woman." Photo: Janice Biehn

When the Rev. Naomi Kabugi heard about this year’s Ride for Refuge event, she knew immediately that it was a cause she wanted to support.

Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) teams participating in the annual walking and biking fundraiser were raising money for Maison Dorcas, a safe home for women who have been victims of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“I know what it means to be from that part of the world,” says Kabugi, who was born and raised in Kenya, and lived there for most of her adult life.

And so, on Oct. 5, Kabugi set out on a 21.6-km walk.

“I walked, thinking about those women. I walked talking about them. I walked talking about how PWRDF helped people like [them]…. That was the way I could hold them for a little while. Not even just them, but the cause, the whole, of women and violence.”

Kabugi’s walk raised about $1,700 from her parish, St. Alban the Martyr in Acton, Ont. The route for her walk went from Acton to St. John’s Anglican Church in Rockwood, Ont., and back. “I wanted to kind of make a connection between the two churches” rather than turning around at a random landmark, she says.

The priest, who has served as St. Alban’s rector since 2017, was joined in the walk by Alex Hilson, parish administrator. (Her husband also followed up with supplies.)

“This is not just a young man, but this is a strong man, and he’s tall,” Kabugi laughs. “His strides are huge—one is two or three [of] mine!” Once they had established a pace, she says, time flew.

“I told him so many stories about what I know about PWRDF. And, gracious him, he listened.” She spoke about violence against women, the way it is “almost legitimized” in patriarchal societies. “That’s a pain, I think, that hit me, thinking about violence against women…. Anyone can do whatever they want, nobody’s really going to stand up for you, because you are a woman.”

In such cultures, women’s lives are not taken seriously, she says. “There is nothing dangerous like something that is embedded in one’s culture, particularly when that element [has] to do with the dignity of another human being.” She adds, “It doesn’t have to be Congo. It can be the plight of every woman [in a country] where the culture is not like ours, where women are protected by the constitution…. I’ve never been [to Congo]. But I’ve heard about the issues of war; I hear about the things that happen, about rape.”

The cause struck her on a personal level. “I wasn’t doing it as a priest,” she says. “I was doing it as a woman.”

Kabugi says she first felt called to her vocation as a young woman, but the Anglican Church in Kenya did not ordain women at the time. The bishop of her diocese, diocese of Mount Kenya Central, instead appointed her coordinator of the local Mothers’ Union. It was while working with the Mothers’ Union that Kabugi first came in contact with the work of PWRDF.

The Mothers’ Union was looking for ways to empower vulnerable women in the area, Kabugi says. During her time as coordinator she worked on development projects like giving women goats—a way to help women create their own livelihoods.

PWRDF was one of the organizations that worked with the diocese’s development department, and Kabugi says she was impressed with the integrity of the organization.

“If you go to any diocese in the Anglican church, particularly in Kenya, [and] say, ‘What is PWRDF doing?’ they’ll say, ‘Come, we’ll show you.’

“They’ll take you to a project about agriculture or zero-grazing…. You see the work that is happening.”

Kabugi says she saw the effect of empowerment projects on women firsthand. “It’s the way that you need to wake up with a purpose…. Now they can say, I can wake up and feed my goat…. They were standing better, straighter, with some gratitude. I think they could see God in their lives through the work of the ministry of PWRDF, through the work of other ministries in Kenya.”

Kabugi moved to Canada with her husband and two daughters and was ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada in 2008. She says she has been drawn to serve in parishes inclined toward outreach, mission and social justice. This attitude, demonstrated by an active PWRDF ministry, drew her to St. Alban’s.

Thinking about gender-based violence can give rise to feelings of helplessness and frustration, Kabugi acknowledges, recalling that while walking she wished instead she couldjust push a button to help right the world. “I think there was that sense of helplessness. I think there was also a level of—I call it almost a righteous anger. I also am a woman. I know how much it takes even for people to realize that I’m talking…. And of course, I could compare myself. I could be there [in the Congo]…if I took a flight, in 14 hours I’d be one of them.”

Ride for Refuge takes place across Canada. PWRDF, which has participated since 2014, this year chose Maison Dorcas, part of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the recipient of funds raised through PWRDF rides.

Maison Dorcas is a safe home started in 2008 to support women unable to return home from Panzi Hospital because of their injuries, continuing danger or stigma attached to victims of sexual violence.

Watch a video of Rev. Kabugi talking about her experience below or on pwdrf.org.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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