11/01/2011 09:31 am ET | Updated Jan 01, 2012

Why I Walked 136 Miles for Women in Kenya


After walking from San Diego to Los Angeles with 50 - 70 pounds of wood on my back, I feel as though my feet have been run over by an 8-ton tractor and my clavicles have been permanently indented from the ropes that held the wood on my shoulders. Why would someone subject themselves to this? Because 3 billion people have to cook every meal over an open fire and that means walking up to 15 miles with a load of 50 - 70 pounds of wood on their backs. We wanted to bring to life what so many women in the developing world go through and we invited some friends to join us, such as Invisible Children, The Modern Gypsies, Jedidiah Clothing, People of a Second Chance and many others. Watch the short film below to get a sense of just how difficult it was and, more importantly, how people were changed through this experience.

The Paradigm Project aims to end open fire cooking, and a significant amount of the burden of wood carrying that women go through, by implementing 5 million efficient cookstoves by 2020. Through my work with The Paradigm Project, I encountered what women go through just to cook in Kenya. In the first episode of a series called Stoveman, we went on one of these "woodwalks" to collect wood with a group of women from Northern Kenya and this is where the idea for a Southern California woodwalk came from. We hoped that through this woodwalk we could engage communities from San Diego to Los Angeles in the issue of open fire cooking.

This 10 day, 136-mile walk gave me incredible newfound respect for the harsh reality of life of women cooking over an open fire. I only endured a fraction of their struggle over these 10 days, but I can't image what it must feel like to have your feet and back ache from all the hard, physical labor they perform and to have to get up morning after morning to keep doing it just to survive. When I say "just to survive", I mean if these women don't collect wood, they can't cook for their families and give them sustenance. They never get a day off. Its hard labor from the moment they are able bodied or married until they have scoliosis or another physical ailment that prevents them from supporting their families. Vacations are a foreign, western thought.

But here is what's amazing to me: these women have so much joy in the midst of their harsh realities of life. They sing, laugh and dance daily.

So after this grueling, toughest-challenge-of-my-life experience, many people have asked me "So what's next? When's the next woodwalk?" I nearly fall over and pass out at the thought of another woodwalk like that, but I can tell you this: The Paradigm Project is determined, committed and willing to do whatever it takes to get 5 million stoves to 25 million people by 2020. We also know that we can't do that alone and we need your help. We need you to share the story of what women go through just to cook, we need you to mobilize your friends and networks to fund stoves and, together, we can shift the paradigm and stop open fire cooking.

Thanks for reading, for caring about what people half way across the world go through just to get by and being a part of something bigger than you!