Alberta inmates bring communities together to help end global hunger

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In a village in rural Nepal, community members gather fresh water from a newly-built irrigation pump with a sign above that reads, ‘Funded by the Bowden Federal Penitentiary, Alberta, Canada’.

In Alberta’s medium-security Bowden Institution, inmates gather in the chapel, where photos of Nepalese villagers with fresh, clean water are posted on the chapel wall. Above the photos, an inmate has written:

‘This is what happens when we are willing to change our focus from Selfishness to Selflessness. We can change someone’s life forever!’

This connection between Canadian inmates and Nepalese villagers is a result of the annual Bowden Walk-a-thon, where half of the institution’s inmates raise pledges each year by walking hundreds of kilometers around the prison yard.

Once the walk is over and the pledges are collected, Bowden Institution donates the money to Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Three years ago, the walk-a-thon raised money to drill water wells in ten rural villages of earthquake-stricken Nepal through Foodgrains Bank member Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

It wasn’t until the inmates saw the photos from Nepal that they understood the impact of their efforts.

“It just about brought tears to my eyes,” says Protestant Chaplain Bud Sargent, on watching the inmates see the pictures for the first time.

“They were standing around looking at these pictures saying, ‘We did this. We did this.’”

This year’s walk-a-thon will be the fifth overall, and proceeds will go toward two Kenyan projects of Foodgrains Bank member World Renew.

One project is helping 9,740 farmers learn to grow more and better crops for their families, while the other is providing emergency food rations for 12,000 people affected by drought.

“What we’re trying to do is help these guys develop empathy—helping them care for others.”

The walk-a-thon began when Sargent asked inmates how they could live out God’s call to help those in need, but it’s grown into something much bigger than he had anticipated.

“The first walk-a-thon we only had 100 inmates participating,” says Sargent. “Now we have 300 – that’s half the prison population.”

And as the walk-a-thon grows, so does the impact the inmates are making. In its first year, the walk-a-thon raised $3,600. Last year’s walk raised over $30,000.

“It shows inmates they can make a difference,” says Sargent. “Most of their lives they’ve been told they can’t do anything.”

People outside Bowden are invited to sponsor the walk-a-thon. For the inmates, receiving such donations from churches and individuals is just as rewarding as being able to help people in need overseas.

“When members of the outside community join us in our efforts to give back to others in a meaningful way, that changes lives,” says John, an inmate at the institution. “It’s a validation that we too are a valued member of the Church and the Body of Christ.”

“We become encouraged, enriched, and humbly blessed,” he adds.

Peter Bulthuis, Associate Director of Church Relations at World Renew, says he’s excited to see the Bowden Institution Walk-a-thon bring more Canadians together to help those who are hungry overseas.

“The inmates initiated something way outside of their day-to-day experience and have developed a community of partners – Canadian Foodgrains Bank, World Renew, Alberta churches and loving individuals – around Canada, all of whom are working together to make this dream a reality,” says Bulthuis.

“It’s exciting and humbling to remember that none of us can do much alone, but in the power of the Spirit, and the power of community, mountains can be moved, and lives can be saved,” he adds.

For this year’s walk-a-thon, which will take place on September 9, 300 inmates plan to collectively walk 2,000 kilometers, which equals close to 1,200 laps around the prison yard. Sargent says their goal is to raise $50,000 this year, and while the money is important, the message behind the donations means just as much.

“When you donate through the walk-a-thon, not only are you helping people overseas, you’re also doing good Kingdom work here in these guys’ lives,” says Sargent.

“The financial support for the inmates walking says ‘We believe in you’.”

The Bowden Institution Walk-a-Thon will take place on Saturday, September 9 at Bowden Institution. To make a donation supporting the walk-a-thon, visit www.worldrenew.net/Bowden

-Shaylyn McMahon, Communications Assistant