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Trek across state, help across sea

Two mothers plan a 300-mile walk to raise money to stop the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2007


fDUNEDIN - The budding activists concerned about mass murder in Africa are two mothers with young children and comfortable family lives in this artsy town.

Stacy McMahon and Joanna Kehr grew up in Dunedin. The two waiters work and play with their kids and bartender husbands on Clearwater Beach.

But they often think of the mothers and children suffering through what some people call government-sponsored genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

So three months ago they formed Mothers Walking for Others to raise awareness and local relief donations for the refugees of Darfur.

To that end, McMahon and Kehr will start a 300-mile walk from downtown Dunedin to Key Largo on Saturday.

The walk through the heart of Florida will take them 15 days.

They are looking for monetary pledges as a way to raise donations from the walk, but they will continue to raise funds indefinitely.

They said they already have raised $10,000 through two other fundraisers at the Palm Pavilion restaurant on Clearwater Beach and Lia Sophia Jewelry in Palm Harbor.

The women ask that checks be made payable directly to Save the Children-Darfur, the worldwide relief organization McMahon and Kehr chose as their charity.

Like college students, organizations and individuals around the United States concerned about Darfur, the women also ask people to sign petitions urging the United States and foreign governments to pressure the Sudanese government to stop killing its people.

"Every person who signs a letter or signs a petition, I do think it will do some good," said McMahon, 37, who works at a Frenchy's restaurant on Clearwater Beach. "At some point, it will make a difference."

* * *

Darfur has been the focus of international attention since 2004, when the Sudanese government is accused of beginning to slaughter rebels and civilians. At least 200,000 people are believed to have been killed. Another 2.5-million have fled their homes.

President Bush has called the crisis a genocide, though not all countries use that term.

McMahon and Kehr generally don't follow celebrity news. But the issue registered with McMahon in part because celebrities like actor George Clooney have drawn attention to the crisis.

The magazine Vanity Fair focused further attention on the issue with its coverage of Africa earlier this year.

"It bothered me," McMahon said. "I was like, 'That's it. I've got to find something to do.' "

Her social consciousness comes from wondering what it was like for her white father growing up in Birmingham, Ala., during segregation, McMahon said. It has always disturbed her that the Holocaust was allowed to happen.

Lately, it's her four children - ages 1 to 5 - that have had a bigger influence on her views.

"I think of them and wish for a world that is just," McMahon said. "It doesn't seem something like that (in Darfur) should happen to children anywhere in the world."

Kehr said her interest in Darfur traces to books she has read.

One was Night, in which Elie Wiesel wrote about his internment at Buchenwald during the Holocaust. His father died there. Another was Do They Hear You When You Cry?, in which Fauziya Kassindja writes about female genital mutilation in Africa.

Being the mother of a year-old son has also shaped Kehr's views.

"My son changed how I look at the world and how I want him to look at the world," she said. "I want him to care about the world. I want him to be active. It starts with me."

* * *

At 8 a.m. Saturday, the two women's families - and others, they hope - will join them at the Time Out Cafe in Dunedin. The group will walk the first mile along Edgewater Drive together.

After that, the two women will walk alone the first 20-mile leg of the trek on the Pinellas Trail.

A car will give them a ride across the Sunshine Skyway bridge, but they will resume walking on the other side.

Their path will be along back roads such as State Roads 70 and 27, through towns such as Arcadia and Clewiston.

A car will follow with water and food. They will sleep in motels. Along the way, they hope to get attention from the newspapers and television stations.

Finally, their families will be meet them in Key Largo on Nov. 18.

"There are a lot of issues in the world," McMahon said. "Darfur is mine. Their government is coming to their villages and killing the people. To me, it's not acceptable."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Fast facts

To help

For more information on the Mothers Walking for Others:

- Visit

www.motherswalkingforothers.com

www.myspace.com/motherswalkingforothers

- E-mail

MothersWalkingForOthers@yahoo.com

- Or call

Joanna Kehr: (727) 743-5667

Stacy McMahon: (727) 385-5557