U.N. to honor Maine woman kayaking from Yarmouth to Guatemala

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YARMOUTH — Dr. Deb Walters, the kayaking grandmother making her way from Maine to Guatemala, is being honored by the United Nations.

Walters, a resident of Troy, started paddling from Yarmouth in July 2014 to raise money for Safe Passage. On Saturday she will be recognized by the U.N. as one of six Rotary Global Women of Action.

Walters, a member of Unity’s Rotary Club, will be honored at the U.N. in New York City on Nov. 7, World Rotary Day. She is the only honoree from North America.

Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran said the awards are given to women who are trying to fix some of the world’s most difficult problems. She said the honorees embody the Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self.”

According to a press release, Walters, 64, is being recognized “for her extensive service to the people of Guatemala in the fight against multi-generational poverty in one of the world’s most economically-depressed regions.”

Walters said she feels very honored by the award.

“I am humbled that my service in Guatemala is being recognized by Rotary International and the United Nations,” she said.

While Walters has a passion for kayaking, she also deeply cares about Guatemalan families who have to salvage through garbage dumps to survive. She first became involved with volunteering in Guatemala through Safe Passage, a Yarmouth-based organization that helps families who forage in the dump.

After years of volunteering in the country and making two to three trips a year, Walters decided to kayak her way there to help. Along the way, she has been stopping in cities and towns on the East Coast to inspire others to help, too.

The trip was supposed to take one year, but Walters was put off track in January, when she sustained a spinal injury from paddling. She had paddled about 1,500 miles and had made it to South Carolina when she needed emergency surgery. 

She resumed paddling in September from where she left off and, at that point, had about 1,000 more miles to go. As of Oct. 31, Walters had made it to Florida.

Walters said she hopes being honored by the U.N. will bring more attention to the families in Guatemala who need help.

“Achieving this level of recognition on the world stage will go a long way to bringing international attention to the plight of so many families in need,” she said. “Through global collaboration, together we can lift these families out of chronic poverty and offer them hope for the future.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.


I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.