Chris Fenton of The Fenton Team has just returned from Northern Africa, where he represented the Alberni Valley in a 100-kilometre trek across the Sahara Desert in support of women and children fleeing violence.
The trip, which took place in November, saw Fenton hike with 120 other participants for five straight days across the desert. As a group, the Royal LePage Realtors from across Canada raised more than $1.1 million for their local women’s shelters. Eighty percent of every dollar raised by Fenton will stay in the Alberni Valley as a donation to Alberin Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS), while the other 20 percent will be used on a national level for education programs. Fenton personally raised more than $5,000.
According to Fenton, he had to travel for four full days just to reach the starting point of the trek in Morocco’s Sahara Desert. The trip to the starting point included a day of driving through the high Atlas Mountains and a day in 4x4s, driving through the desert itself.
The 100-kilometre trek brought the group to the Algerian border, where they were stopped by Moroccan military personal on ATVs, who were monitoring the area for drug smuggling and members of Al-Quaeda crossing illegally into the country.
For five straight days, Fenton hiked up to 10 hours a day across sand dunes and rock flats in a dry, hot and inhospitable climate. At night, he said, the temperatures dropped considerably while the group slept in large group tents, used camping-style bathroom facilities and went without electricity, cell service and the other comforts of home.
One highlight of the trek saw the group climb the largest sand dune in Morocco at one thousand feet. Another was the interaction with the local Berber nomads along the way. The trekkers were supported by camels that carried water through the desert.
During the trip, letters written to the group by survivors of domestic violence were read aloud to the trekkers. Ironically, said Fenton, the trek took place in a country in which women have considerably less rights then men, and in which domestic violence is a significant issue. There are no legal women’s shelters in Morocco, as it is illegal for anyone to come to the help of a married woman.
The Alberni Valley Community Foundation’s 2018 Vital Signs report shows that the sexual assault rate in the Alberni Valley was 115.5 per 100,000 people in 2017—almost double the provincial average. Additionally, in the 2017-18 fiscal year, the ACAWS Transition House provided 1,737 nights of bed stays for women and children at risk of or fleeing domestic violence.