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Sign up for ‘Virtual Camino’ to raise real money to help the homeless

By Cian Molloy - 25 July, 2020

"As you log your distance, you will also receive updates about which town you are approaching next, recipes on typical meals along the way, related books, films, podcasts and playlists to keep you in the Camino spirit!" says Laura Hoban of Focus Ireland.

Focus Ireland has launched a virtual Camino, the Camino de Quarantine, to raise real money to help in the fight against homelessness.

For many years, the charity founded by Sr Stanislaus Kennedy has benefited from funds raised by pilgrims taking part in the Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages.

Those participating in a Focus Ireland organised walk along the Camino last year, for example, paid €2,000 to take part, with €1,000 of that covering their costs and €1,000 going to the charity – with some participants topping up the amount given to the charity by as much as another €4,000.

Last year alone, Irish Camino participants raised  nearly €30,000 for Focus Ireland, with that money going toward a wide range of facilities from emergency accommodation, a drop-in centre and homework clubs for the children of homeless families.

However, this year few Irish people are making the journey to the Shrine of St James in northern Spain. Earlier this year, cathedral authorities in Santiago announced that the pilgrimage was officially closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While the pilgrimage has since reopened, the Irish government is discouraging citizens of this country from travelling abroad and Spain is not on the ‘Green List’ of countries that the HSE considers it safe for Irish people to visit.

Faced with a dramatic loss of income for its homelessness services, Laura Hoban and Elizabeth Smyth of Focus Ireland have devised a virtual pilgrimage that Irish people can complete in their own time at locations of their own choosing – whether that be in their own locality or while they are enjoying a ‘staycation’ on the island of Ireland.

Those who sign up for the initiative, via virtualcamino.focusireland.ie, can log their walking distances on a dedicated Focus Ireland webpage.

More than that, says Laura: “As you log your distance, you will also receive updates about which town you are approaching next, recipes on typical meals along the way, related books, films, podcasts and playlists to keep you in the Camino spirit!

“Last but not least, your online fundraising page will give you passport stamps (similar to the actual trip) for each town you reach. Once you have collected all your stamps and reached your fundraising goal, Focus Ireland will post you your certificate of completion.”

The Camino de Quarantine has been running now for two weeks and has already raised more than €4,000. The initiative is due to run until the end of September – new participants can sign up as late as early September – with the result, Laura believes there is a good chance that the virtual Camino might earn more for the charity than the real thing!

One Camino de Quarantine participant, Eimear Kellett, says she and her family are really enjoying the experience. “The distances were a little too much my 6 year-old’s little legs to walk so we do a long cycle over the weekend and I walk the same distance during the week,” she says. “The night before we do our big family cycle we read through the walking notes provided by Focus Ireland, learn about the culture, the sayings and the traditions along ‘The Way’. Focus Ireland even provide recipes of typical meals you would expect on the Camino so our day of cycling is topped off with a Spanish inspired dinner!

“For our son Frankie, the excitement in his face knowing he’s making a difference, while challenging himself – he cycled 30kms in one day! – and having fun. He’s not just learning about the traditions of the Camino, he’s learning about how Focus Ireland makes a difference in people’s lives. He’s so excited to see when people have donated and knowing that is because of his amazing effort makes it even better.”

For more information, visit: virtualcamino.focusireland.ie

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