By Tabitha Hogue
On the morning of May 5, Santa Monicans will have the chance to make an epic trek: Lighthouse Medical Missions’ “Walk to Africa.” Of course, unless you can walk on water, it’s impossible to walk to Africa from Santa Monica. But if you have 1,000 people walking an 8-mile scenic route around Santa Monica, they will have covered 8,000 miles, or roughly the distance from Santa Monica to Africa.
The walk, which starts at 9 a.m. at Crescent Bay Park, costs $35 for adults and $25 for children, and serves as a “walk-a-thon” to raise funds for Lighthouse Medical Missions’ trips to Africa. Local pediatrician Bob Hamilton organizes these trips, which he started 20 years ago. Over two decades, he has organized 25 trips to Africa (and more recently, to Guatemala as well).
For each trip, Dr. Hamilton gathers a team of doctors and nurses from across the country, and they provide free medical care in places like The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their destinations are always developing nations in which healthcare coverage for the majority of people is spotty and often expensive. Over the course of twenty years, these teams have provided medical care for about 70,000 people.
On their last trip, which was in mid-February to The Gambia, they met the first lady of the country, Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow, and served more than 1,500 patients, including one man who had an acute appendix, which they were able to diagnose early. As a result, he was able to go to the local hospital and have his appendix removed before it burst.
“We effectively saved his life,” Dr. Hamilton recalled. Moments like this keep him going back again and again.
“When you go, you feel like you’ve done something substantial and meaningful,” he said. “And that’s kind of what got me hooked.”
Dr. Hamilton said he sees the joy of helping people as being tied into his faith as a Christian. On every trip, his motto is, “We go for one,” meaning that even if the team helps just one person, the trip is worth it. He believes that just as Jesus loved and died for individuals, so he wants to love and be willing to sacrifice something for each individual he encounters.
Last year’s “Walk to Africa” attracted about 800 people, and this year, Dr. Hamilton and his team hope to attract 1,000. Participants can go for a scenic 4 or 8 mile walk, and kids can participate in the 2-mile children’s walk and the Family Fun Zone, which will have games, races, face painting, bean bag tosses, and lots of other fun activities for kids.
Those interested in signing up for the walk can register online at walktoafrica.com. Doctors or nurses who are interested in joining a team for a medical mission can visit lighthousemedicamissions.com for more details.