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Conn. woman prepares to walk across Africa

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[July 15, 2011]  MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) -- Amy Russell isn't expecting her walk across Connecticut to pose much of challenge.

She's just going 140 miles, starting Saturday in Granby and finishing next Friday in Greenwich.

That is child's play compared to the 7,000-mile, two-year trek across Africa she starts in January in an effort to raise money to help provide clean drinking water for people in underdeveloped countries.

"It's a good little warm-up for me," she said. "We're going on a 500-mile walk in August in California. So, hopefully this can help me get into shape and maybe raise a little awareness along the way."

Russell, who grew up in Manchester, is the founder of Walk4Water, an organization that began as a nagging idea three years ago while she was in college in Chicago and working on poverty issues.

She says she began thinking about walking across Africa after she learned that a billion people around the world, mostly women and children, walk miles each day just to fill containers with brackish water.

"It was this crazy idea that just wouldn't go away," she said. "There was a cultivation process of the idea and how to implement it to help people."

Russell hopes to average about 20 miles per day, six days a week while in Africa. That's about the pace she's hoping to keep up in Connecticut this week, though she expects the accommodations to be a bit better here.

"I already know where I'm staying for three nights, and I have a whole group of friends who are willing to come pick me up from wherever," she said. "So we'll just see what happens."

In Africa, her group will carry what it needs in backpacks, camping along the way or staying with people who have already agreed to help them during their trek. Russell said each walker expects to go through 14 pairs of shoes.

They will start in January in Cape Town, South Africa, and travel through Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt, webcasting their journey at They hope to raise $8 million for wells, filtration systems and for other water-related projects in underdeveloped countries.

They also will be doing volunteer work with organizations already in Africa, learning about their work and meeting the people they help.

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"We want to see firsthand what a community looks like that has no access to clean water," she said. "And hopefully go through communities that have had water projects, like a well, done for them and see how life has changed for them."

Russell is expecting to face some dangers along the way, but she said they are preparing for those and have mapped out what they hope will be the safest route possible. The group also will have nurse with them and a support vehicle that can pick them up in an emergency.

"If we can avoid the really high-conflict areas and stick with the local people, I think we'll 90 percent of the time be OK," she said. "But to say what the political climate in Sudan or Egypt is going to be two years from now is pretty hard to predict."

A fundraising picnic, "Water Rocks," is planned Sunday in Manchester, with five local bands providing music. Russell also plans to travel through Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Milford and Bridgeport, with different groups joining her for segments of the trip.

"This crisis is a solvable crisis," she said. "We're just trying to set an example and put our lives out there and say, 'Look, we're doing this for this cause.' People say it's impossible. But we're trying to show that just normal, everyday people can do things that can change the lives of people around the world."

[Associated Press; By PAT EATON-ROBB]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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