Saturday, 15 December 2012

A love story

Just after the millennium I worked with a foundation which supported social entrepreneurs. This is an fashionable term for individuals who have the ideas and energy to develop services based on business principles for the benefit of society rather than for personal profit.
One day I got a letter from a young man called Richard. He explained that he was a manager with a multinational computing company but he wanted to do something more value-based with his life. He had heard about our work, “could I come and work with you?” he asked. Intrigued I met him. I explained that any salary we might offer would be a fraction of what he was earning in the private sector. “I’ve considered this” he replied, “and I still want to do it, if you’ll have me.”  We did and Richard started work supporting people with fledgling ideas and projects. He was good at it and became enormously popular with the rest of the team.One day I was wandering round the second floor of the HQ in London. There was someone working at a desk I hadn’t seen before. This was a new intern called Pooja. She explained she was from India and was working in the UK for a year.
To cut a long story short Pooja and Richard fell head over heels in love. All went well until the time came for Pooja to return to India. Richard was crestfallen.  I thought there was only one solution to the problem. Richard should follow Pooja to India if he wanted. We also had the idea that perhaps they could both start to work with social entrepreneurs in India based on the same methods and philosophy we had developed in the UK. They both leapt at the chance. The foundation gave them a small grant to get them started and off they went.

I’ve kept in touch with them on and off over the last 6 years and they’ve kept me posted about their romance and also their journey in setting up an organisation aimed at the changing the entire country! The name says it all: UnltdIndia. As this new own organisation approached its 5th birthday last month I went over with two friends to visit Richard and Pooja in Mumbai, to see their new organisation and to meet the people they are supporting. This was like the grandfather visiting his children and meeting the grandchildren for the first time.
I wasn’t disappointed. Brimming over with pride is more like the emotion I felt. These two have founded an organisation, secured funds and already have a strong track record of supporting people who have developed innovative projects over a vast array of social activities. In the short time I had with them I met 7 of their “investees” – people in whom they had invested time and money. I met Krishna who like Richard has given up an excellent job with a major consultancy to develop on-line education for the most promising children from the most deprived backgrounds. I met Khusboo who having been brought up in an orphanage decided to play her part by taking education to orphans and destitute girls. I met the irrepressible Ashok who has developed sports projects to reach out to school drop outs to help them re-engage with the education system.  Successful? Well the International Football Federation thinks so and have given him full backing.
Some social projects have taken off and are now employing staff and generating  profits which are ploughed back into the communities they serve. When Pooja explained that we were visiting a project which organises visit for tourist around one of India’s biggest slums we didn’t know what to expect. At the appointed hour our uniformed tour guide picked us up. We could have been going on safari. Down town we met up with other tourists at a centre where there were 5 or 6 other groups with their own guides.  These were the guides from Reality Tours, a social business set up to provide visits to Dharavi a huge slum housing 1 million people who exist through their own efforts at recycling plastic and tin cans, collecting scrap metal and making simple pottery. As we picked our way through narrow lanes reeking of  poverty we passed barefoot children who all asked in perfect English, “what is your name?” Our tour guide Nilesh piled on the depressing facts – the slum is about 150 years old, it houses 1 million people, there are 700 toilets – that’s 1 for every 1500 people...”  Yet we also saw signs of hope. The profits generated by the tours have funded a school, sports teams, out of school classes, a cricket team with more plans for the future. But as we visited the “businesses” seeing people dressed in rags crushing plastic with machinery which would be condemned as an outrageous health risk in other countries or scrubbing tens of thousands of tin cans with their bare hands so they could be sold to be used again I was left with only one thought – someone is making a lot of money out of this and it isn't the good people of Dharavi.
Two nights later I went back to school. After driving almost 2 hours into the suburbs accompanied by Roshan from UnltdIndia I found myself sitting at a desk, in a classroom full of pupils at 8pm in the evening. The desk could have been the very desk I sat at in Scotland 50 years ago. Initials were carved into it. The surface covered in a tartan of long dried ink stains. The teacher was lively and demanding of the pupils. They were fresh faced and answered his questions eagerly with not a hint of tiredness you might expect from children who had been working all day long.
We were visiting Masoom Night School which provides education for children who to support their families have to work all day. One of them wrote this verse which describes it better than I can:
They work in the day
They study at night
They are tea stall boys
They are domestic workers
They are courier boys
They are sweepers
But they have the hope
and the determination
to someday make it right.
- Priti J Nair

I met Nikita the organiser, brains, energy and sheer inspiration behind the project. She explained that for over 100 years there have been night schools in India but they have become moribund attracting tired and motiveless teachers with no resources and less energy. The children who attend do not improve let alone pass their exams.  Nikita who had no background in education decided to do something about this. She gave up her job as an administrator and planned her first night school. A night school with a difference – where the children were given a hot meal after their days work before they went into the classroom, where Nikita assembled modern educational resources, where she went and talked to the teachers to give them encouragement and support.  Now she runs 15 schools with 850 pupils attending every day. “Has their educational performance improved? ” I asked. “We have every pupil independently tested at the beginning of our courses, at the end they sit the public exams. Our pupils have improved by 36% compared to others”.  In that run down school with its old school desks were worker children being given a chance to pass exams that would be a vital milestone in improving their lives. Inspiring doesn’t describe it.
As for the love story between Richard and Pooja. They aren’t pursuing that for the moment rather they are focussing their efforts and love on all of these projects they are helping to support.

“And what about the camino John?” I hear you say. “You said this blog would only be about camino related things”. And so I did. That’s where the magic of the camino comes in.
On that long journey from the centre of Mumbai out to the suburbs, thousands of miles away from Spain and Santiago, Roshan and I got chatting about religion, Hinduism, the temples we’d visited. “Where do you live?” he asked. “In Santiago de Compostela” I explained, “There are pilgrimages routes to there, have you heard of it?” “I’ve read Paul Cohelo’s book the Pilgrimage twice and I hope to walk to Santiago in the Spring...I can’t stop thinking about you know what I mean?”
Oh yes Roshan, I know what you mean. That’s another love story.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Volunteers wanted - Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims’ Office - Santiago de Compostela
Volunteers wanted

There are a number of volunteering opportunities available through the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago during the period May – October 2013. Volunteers are expected to have previously made the pilgrimage to Santiago.

Consigna/Left Luggage Service

Volunteers are required to operate a left luggage store for pilgrims in the Pilgrims’ Office.  The left luggage service will be available from 9am – 8.30pm. Volunteers will normally work in 2 shifts with one working from  9am – 3pm and another from 3pm – 9pm.

This role is suitable for people who may not yet be proficient in Spanish but who wish to improve their language skills.

Hospitaleros – Albergue Fin del Camino

Volunteer hospitaleros are sought for the new Albergue Fin del Camino which is located on the Camino Francés as it enters the city through the barrio Fontiñas. The albergue is operated by the Pilgrimage to Santiago Foundation which is an independent charitable organisation established to develop services for pilgrims and support the work of the Pilgrims’ Office. The Foundation and the Albergue Fin del Camino are not for profit charitable organisations committed to using their resources exclusively for the benefit of pilgrims.

The Albergue Fin del Camino has 110 beds. It is currently the newest and cheapest albergue in Santiago charging 8€ per per night. The albergue accepts advance bookings and groups. Pilgrims are welcome to stay as many nights as they wish.

Hospitaleros are required to staff reception, welcome pilgrims and supervise the albergue. Daily cleaning is carried out by a professional company and no cooking is required.  A team of 3 volunteers will work on a rota providing a 24 hour presence in the albergue.

Applications are sought from experienced/trained hospitaleros and those for whom this would be a first experience. Induction will be provided. Support from the Pilgrims’ Office will be available on-call at all times.

The ablilty to converse in basic Spanish, including on the telephone, is essential.


Accommodation will be provided for volunteers free of charge in apartments in the city of Santiago. Volunteers must meet all other travel and subsistence expenses.

For further information please e mail Daniel Vargas, Volunteer Co-ordinator on - Dani will acknowledge your request for further information.  Application Packs will be sent out from 7 January 2013.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

All the statistics from Santiago – 157 varieties of pilgrims

I realised early on that the experience of the pilgrimage to Santiago was so powerful it couldn’t just be expressed in words. This picture is evidence of that. Elaine and 4 year old daughter Matinée walked together without the aid of pram or buggy from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. Elaine said on the Pilgrims’ Office day book:  “The Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port with my 4 year old (no stroller) daughter: what an adventure! An achievement, at the same time: sorrow, joy, pain, difficulty, the extraordinary, the discouragement, the wonderful, the intense. We enjoy the small pleasures of this life and together they make us smile every day.
Elaine and Matinée from Canada were just two of the pilgrims who have arrived this year from 157 different countries.

From 1 January – 30 November 2012 190,935 pilgrims arrived. That is an increase of 5% on last year.

Pilgrims from English speaking countries
The increase in numbers from the English speaking countries continues to be a major talking point in camino circles. The United States increased by 1% again this month to surge further head of the others.

South Africa
United Kingdom
United States
New Zealand

The full analysis:

The number of pilgrims who arrived in the period 1 January  - 30 November 2012 -  190,935

Camino                                Number of pilgrims
Frances-Camino de               133921 (70,14%)
Portugues-Camino                  25402 (13,30%)
Norte-Camino de                    12840 (6,72%)
Via de la Plata                         8101 (4,24%)
Primitivo-Camino                    6305 (3,30%)
Ingles-Camino                         3522 (1,84%)
Otros caminos                          444 (0,23%)
Muxia-Finisterre                        400 (0,21%)

Age        Number of pilgrims
30 - 60   108230 (56,68%)
< 30        54367 (28,47%)
> 60        28338 (14,84%)

Country                         Number of pilgrims

Spain                               94370 (49,43%)
Germany                          15554 (8,15%)
Italy                                 12324 (6,45%)
Portugal                           10230 (5,36%)
France                             8052 (4,22%)
United States                   7038 (3,69%)
Ireland                             3835 (2,01%)
UK                                  3738 (1,96%)
Holand                            2990 (1,57%)
Canada                            2876 (1,51%)
Korea                              2408 (1,26%)
Poland                             2296 (1,20%)
Brazil                               2214 (1,16%)
Belgium                           1941 (1,02%)
Australia                          1862 (0,98%)
Austria                             1759 (0,92%)
Denmark                          1672 (0,88%)
Switzerland                      1293 (0,68%)
Sweden                            1273 (0,67%)
México                             1027 (0,54%)
Norway                              968 (0,51%)
Hungary                             879 (0,46%)
Japan                                 841 (0,44%)
Czech Rep                         827 (0,43%)
Argentina                           803 (0,42%)
Finland                              714 (0,37%)
South Africa                       707 (0,37%)
Slovaquia                           634 (0,33%)
Russia                                499 (0,26%)
Colombia                           455 (0,24%)
Venezuela                           441 (0,23%)
New Zealand                       376 (0,20%)
Slovenia                              374 (0,20%)
Romania                             280 (0,15%)
Bulgaria                              209 (0,11%)
Ecuador                             182 (0,10%)
China                                 175 (0,09%)
Chile                                  173 (0,09%)
Lithuania                            165 (0,09%)
Uruguay                             162 (0,08%)
Perú                                   161 (0,08%)
Israel                                  158 (0,08%)
Filipinas                              126 (0,07%)
Puerto Rico                        121 (0,06%)
Estonia                               118 (0,06%)
Malta                                  106 (0,06%)
Andorra                              106 (0,06%)
Luxemburgh                        102 (0,05%)
Gender                Number of pilgrims
Males                   107763 (56,44%)
Females               83172 (43,56%)

Method of transport
Method                               Number of pilgrims
On foot                               162931 (85,33%)
Bicycle                                 27347 (14,32%)
Horseback                            606 (0,32%)
Wheelchairs                            51 (0,03%)

Reasons for pilgrimage
Reasons                        Number of pilgrims
Religious and other         100298 (52,53%)
Religious                        78907 (41,33%)
Not religious                   11730 (6,14%)

Starting point
Starting point    Number of pilgrims
Sarria                 40520 (21,22%)
S. Jean P. Port    21985 (11,51%)
León                   10354 (5,42%)
Cebreiro              10200 (5,34%)
Roncesvalles         8378 (4,39%)
Tui                        8361 (4,38%)
Ponferrada            7680 (4,02%)
Oporto                 7590 (3,98%)
Astorga                5632 (2,95%)
Pamplona             4139 (2,17%)
Oviedo - C.P.       3933 (2,06%)
Burgos                 3838 (2,01%)
Le Puy                 3404 (1,78%)
Ferrol                   3322 (1,74%)
Irún                      3122 (1,64%)
Valença do Minho 3066 (1,61%)
Vilafranca             2665 (1,40%)
Resto Portugal      2648 (1,39%)
Sevilla                  2262 (1,18%)
Ourense               2260 (1,18%)
France                 2117 (1,11%)
Triacastela           2002 (1,05%)
Lugo - C.P.         1542 (0,81%)
Resto C. León     1359 (0,71%)
Samos                 1299 (0,68%)
Resto Asturias      1184 (0,62%)
Santander             1133 (0,59%)
Ribadeo               1100 (0,58%)
Lisboa                   968 (0,51%)
Logroño                936 (0,49%)
Bilbao                   900 (0,47%)
Ponte de Lima       888 (0,47%)
Vilalba                  841 (0,44%)
Holand                781 (0,41%)
Gijón                   728 (0,38%)
Oviedo                 686 (0,36%)
Somport              655 (0,34%)
Alemania             593 (0,31%)
Avilés                 552 (0,29%)
Salamanca           510 (0,27%)
Madrid - C.F.      473 (0,25%)
Zamora               459 (0,24%)
País Vasco          425 (0,22%)
Sahagún               424 (0,22%)
Mondoñedo         376 (0,20%)
Bélgium               371 (0,19%)
Puebla de Sanabria 370 (0,19%)
Rates                    342 (0,18%)
Braga                    328 (0,17%)
Resto Asturias      323 (0,17%)
Vega de Valcarce  319 (0,17%)
San Sebastián       303 (0,16%)
Baamonde            300 (0,16%)
Jaca                     293 (0,15%)
Chaves-Portugal   290 (0,15%)
Resto Cantabria   289 (0,15%)
Lourdes                273 (0,14%)
Suiza                    273 (0,14%)
Frómista               260 (0,14%)
Muxia                  255 (0,13%)
Barcelos               233 (0,12%)
Gudiña                 223 (0,12%)
Porriño                 200 (0,10%)
A Guarda             198 (0,10%)
Neda                    194 (0,10%)
Sto. Domingo       189 (0,10%)
Fonsagrada           189 (0,10%)
Vezelay                176 (0,09%)
Carrión                176 (0,09%)
Puente la Reina    169 (0,09%)
Lourenzá             162 (0,08%)
Cataluña              162 (0,08%)
Arles                   157 (0,08%)
Mérida                 153 (0,08%)
Rabanal               152 (0,08%)
Andalucia            151 (0,08%)
C. León - V.P.    145 (0,08%)
Finisterra             145 (0,08%)
Allariz                  143 (0,07%)
Montserrat           141 (0,07%)
France                 141 (0,07%)
Granja                140 (0,07%)
Xunqueira           139 (0,07%)
Hendaya              133 (0,07%)
Laza                    130 (0,07%)
Fonsagrada         129 (0,07%)
Madrid                 124 (0,06%)
Hospital de Orbigo122 (0,06%)
Valencia               118 (0,06%)
Abadin                 114 (0,06%)
Estella                  110 (0,06%)
Viana do Castelo  109 (0,06%)
Austria                 109 (0,06%)
Navarra                107 (0,06%)
Fatima                  102 (0,05%)
Zaragoza              101 (0,05%)
Cáceres                99 (0,05%)
Verín                    96 (0,05%)
Baiona                  93 (0,05%)
Barcelona             90 (0,05%)
Vigo                      83 (0,04%)
Com. Valenciana    79 (0,04%)
Tineo - C.P.          77 (0,04%)
París                     70 (0,04%)
Italia                      66 (0,03%)
Monforte de Lemos 54 (0,03%)
Granada                  53 (0,03%)
Roma                     31 (0,02%)
Reino Unido           22 (0,01%)
 Hungría                  7 (0,00%)
Dinamarca               6 (0,00%)
Finlandia                 6 (0,00%)
Luxemburgh           4 (0,00%)

Status                   Number of pilgrims
Employed            42796 (22,41%)
Students              34526 (18,08%)
Technicians         24590 (12,88%)
Retired                21971 (11,51%)
Self employed     21497 (11,26%)
Teachers              14313 (7,50%)
Public workers     8649 (4,53%)
Manual workers   7113 (3,73%)
Unemployed        5085 (2,66%)
Housepeople       4343 (2,27%)
Directiors            1802 (0,94%)
Artists                 1448 (0,76%)
Priests                 1160 (0,61%)
Farm workers        626 (0,33%)
Religious               478 (0,25%)
Sailors                  344 (0,18%)
Sports                  164 (0,09%)
Oikoten                30 (0,02%)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Cycling to Santiago de Compostela

Do you believe in Camino Coincidences? I'm never sure. But only the other day I was thinking that one day I might cycle through France from one of the traditional starting points and then walk when I get to Spain. As I had this thought I also realised I knew very little about cycling the Camino. When I next logged on to my e mail this note was waiting for me. I've never provided any information for cyclists so I thought I would share it with you:

"Dear John,
Let me introduce myself briefly.
I'm Sophie and a member of the editorial office at is free website for cyclists, actually a free community where you can

- subscribe to meet and ride with friends
- save your workouts and routes and share them with others
- download and use our free mobile app for iphone and android to track your routes and update your workouts

I send you this email concerning the topic 'Santiago de Compostela'.
Our founder, Bernard Van den Abeele, has made the trip from Ghent (Belgium) to Santiago de Compostela in 2010.
He took this very serious and has documented everything during his 3 weeks of cycling to Santiago: he took pictures, wrote in his diary every day and documented all the routes of his 22 days long journey.
Recently, he has taken his time to add his experiences to his blog (in Dutch).

In his blog, he takes about the excitement, nature, people he met, the fun he had and more.
As every big trip, preparation was very important. He found a lot of inspiration in those, sometimes shocking, real-life stories & trips.!

In an attempt to engage people and to inspire them to take on the challenge for such a trip to Santiago, we added several things to our website:
Can we offer you these routes of the whole journey from Ghent to Compostela?
What we like to achieve with this:
  • Inspire people to make this amazing journey to Santiago de Compostela
  • Inspire people to take on the challenge and give them a reason to do this
  • Motivate people to excercise more
I'm personally convinced that the routes from day 1 till day 22 would be a great help to motivate people to make the trip to Santiago themselves.
That extra push they need.

If I can assist you with any further information, pls contact me at any moment.

Looking very forward to your reply,

With the kindest regards,

Ride the world & join us at