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Couple’s pilgrimage for a good cause

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Best foot forward: Pete and Annesa Saunders in Paris shortly before starting off on the 500-mile Camino Francés, the most popular route along the Camino de Santiago, to raise money for Impact Academy (Photograph supplied)

When it comes to helping boys Pete Saunders is always willing to go the extra mile.This month he signed up for 500.He and his wife Annesa are now on a pilgrimage across Europe to raise $25,000 for Impact Mentoring Academy.Mr Saunders is a volunteer and sits on the board of the all-boys private school in Pembroke. “If there is any charity I’d be willing to walk 500 miles for it’s Impact,” he said. “What I like about the school is that it places boys with male mentors to provide guidance and encouragement.“Growing up, I don’t think I heard one word of encouragement from a man. “As a result, I struggled at all stages of my schooling. I have since learnt it doesn’t have to be that way.”The money raised will help establish a scholarship for primary school-aged boys. Impact currently serves middle and high school students.“Annesa and I want to help at least one young man attend Impact who might not otherwise attend,” said Mr Saunders.“It might very well make the difference between a life that includes graduating from college and one that does not.”The Saunders left the island last week and started their 500-mile trek along the Camino Francés on Monday. The journey will take them from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southwestern France to Santiago de Compostela, home of the shrine of the apostle St James the Great, in northwest Spain. The couple raised $1,750 before even setting out. “Overall, the response has been very positive,” Mr Saunders said. “Sometimes people were shocked when we told them our plans, but then they said they were very inspired.”Experts advise two or three months’ training before walking the trail which includes three days crossing the Pyrenees mountains.Mr Saunders wasn’t bothered by the warning.“To prepare, we’ve talked about it,” he laughed. “We did the full End-to-End walk this year. My wife walks quite a bit. She has been doing more preparation than I have.“I wouldn’t be surprised if I struggle more than she does. The preparation for me will come when we start walking.”The route was popularised by the 2010 film, The Way. The trek is filled with dramatic scenery including ancient castles, towns and cathedrals but for Mr Saunders, it isn’t about that.“I prayed one morning about where to walk, and the answer was very clear: walk the Camino,” Mr Saunders said. “I really feel as though the Camino chose us. Don’t get me wrong I’m looking forward to seeing Spain for the first time, but if there had been a walk like this in Jamaica or some other place, I could just as easily have done it there.“We are going the French Way, which is the longest route, so we are kind of ambitious. Although we’ll probably meet groups of walkers we will only have each other and God.”The couple have been married for 11 years and have a nine-year-old son, Dakari. Mr Saunders is finishing up a PhD in human studies in California.“We met in college in Jamaica,” he said. “The first time I saw her I promised God that if he let me marry her, I’d behave.“We were introduced by mutual friends after three months. We became best friends and eventually married.“But with work and raising a child, I don’t think we’ve ever spent 30 straight days together. I’m looking forward to getting to really know her. We are very happy together, but I still feel like I don’t really know her.”He said the journey would likely test any relationship but he views it as “a way of deepening our partnership”.The Saunders expect to walk an average of 14 miles over the next 35 days. They are due home on August 24. “Everything will be made easier knowing that we are helping people at home to support Impact Academy,” Mr Saunders said. “The boys are worth it.”[naviga:ul][naviga:li]• Visit his Facebook page or his blog, petesaunders.org/tag/bermuda/, for more information. Make a donation at www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/help-us-walk-500-miles-for-impact or through HSBC Bank of Bermuda account # 010-836419-001. [/naviga:li][/naviga:ul]

And then there were three: Pete and Annesa Saunders with their son Dakari
All set: bags all packed and waiting to hit the Camino Francés trail