Keep on walking

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t keep me from participating in the beauty of the Roche Children’s Walk.

Early this year, planning the Roche Children’s Walk started like any other year. Darlene Buhrow, who leads our Corporate philanthropy efforts, and I threw ourselves into organising for a day that would bring employees together as it had done so many times before. 

Every year, Roche employees from around the world participate in the, where we raise funds for children’s projects relating to education, nutrition, primary healthcare and social development. 2019 was a record year, where 25,000 employees across 76 countries participated in the walk.

I am lucky to be one of them. I am also honoured to be one of the Children’s Walk Ambassadors. This privilege allowed me to experience first-hand how all our efforts impact real lives. In 2019, I visited the Selam Children’s Village in Ethiopia, a non-profit non-governmental organisation that provides care and support to orphan children, so that they can become educated and lead bright, productive lives. Because of our help, 60 orphans receive holistic support including food, clothing, medical care, education and 50 youths receive technical and vocational training through Selam.

An unforgettable encounter

My visit with our fellow ambassadors was memorable. Ethiopia had the vibrancy of life and colour that only the desert can have, with the beauty of a painted color landscape that reminded me of the Sonoran desert in the U.S. The Roche office there sits in the midst of this beauty and has the distinction each year of being the earliest site to walk for children, held in spring to avoid the unbearable desert heat of summer. 

During my visit, jet-lagged and weary, I turned the corner of a low cement block building and stepped right into the daycare courtyard. My eye caught a small hand clinging to a pastel painted door frame, a tousled head peaked out to get a look at me from the safety of the room beyond. He saw me watching him and, stepping bravely into the frame, his angelic face brightened.

He ran towards me and took my hand – and I was suddenly grounded. In that moment, I saw how all of our yearly efforts and deeds were directly bettering individual lives.

We made it happen

But the pandemic had different plans. My heart sank: It was devastating to think that something we believe in so fervently might not happen, that the dark shadow of the pandemic would blot out so many moments of brightness – the children’s smiles in Ethiopia, smiles that existed, in part, because of us.  

Shaking off the sense of defeat, we decided that the event had to happen. We moved quickly to make the event virtual, encouraging employees to walk apart, but together in spirit. And it worked. We not only built a programme that kept the walk alive, but one that could be shared and used across Roche. 

The dedication I’ve witnessed this year brought me back to the real purpose of the walk and understanding that for us, the walk is an annual event – a pause once in the year to think about the smiles of so many children, the reason we strive to make the world a healthier place for the future.

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