Bob Walked; Everyone Grew

Saturday mornings almost always find me doing my long run. I have run several times through the trails at Lake Lafayette. A few weeks ago, my schedule changed and I was able to participate in a Move Tallahassee walk through the same area. Walking the trail took three times as long as running it would have, but since I ended up among bird lovers and conservationists, things were brought to my attention that I would have missed before: uncommon juvenile birds nestled in the aquatic plants; trash that had been left by walkers prior to us; invasive and predatory vegetation. I left the day with a heightened appreciation for the advantages of slowing down.

When I read an article memorializing Bob Hentzen, President and Co-Founder of Unbound, after his death on October 8, I learned that when he decided to relocate from Kansas City to Guatemala in 1996, he walked. That’s right: 4,000 miles!

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes...

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes…

I can only imagine the human rights issues Bob saw on his walk (and continued to see when he settled in Guatemala).

Did he encounter racism before he left the United States? Did he see citizens of his home country withholding jobs, the ability to rent homes, common courtesy from each other based on which racial group they belonged to?

As he headed south, did he encounter citizens of Mexico, struggling for the right to health protection amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis?

When he arrived in Guatemala, did he immediately see the challenges faced by indigenous people in danger of losing their land and/or livelihood? Undoubtedly he saw what he already knew: that women and girls were in danger of being victims of violence and the inability to get educated.

I know from spending a week on a Mission Awareness Trip in Guatemala with Bob in July 2011 that he cared deeply about the women and girls of Guatemala who needed help to learn skills that would earn them a living; who needed support to get education beyond the initial early grades; who needed protection when spouses succumbed to substance abuse or simply left.

Bob with Guatemalan children

Bob with Guatemalan children

I have so many memories of Bob that have come flooding back since I learned of his death earlier this week.

  • How a few of the kids in the group (and, ahem, perhaps some of the adults) thought it was “quaint” when he walked in for the first time with his guitar. It’s possible a few eyes even rolled. By the end of the week, we were done with that though. I’d give a lot of quetzales (Guatemalan money) to hear Bob sing again.
  • His reference to a song he heard a Guatemalan child sing (paraphrasing here….) “we sing to drown out the sounds of the guns.”
  • The way he interacted with every single Guatemalan family along the way during our week. His little notepad, where he wrote down specific needs and facts. How despite taking notes in his little notepad, those families had his full attention. I remember him asking one teenager if she went to school. She said “no.” There was no judgment coming back from him. But I think a seed may have been planted in that girl’s head. It was clear that no one in Guatemala wanted to disappoint “Don Roberto and Doña Cristina (his wife).”
  • The way he interacted with his staff. I know how short tempered I have been with staff when I supervised. When you’re all crammed together in a mini bus for a week, there’s not a lot of privacy. I listened to him give directions to the Unbound staff and had a sense of abiding, quiet, humble leadership.
  • Despite all that abiding, quiet, humble part, I know that Bob would not brook any nonsense when it came to Unbound. When he talked about charity clearinghouses and auditors questioning how he allocated funds, he was resolute in making sure as much money (and resources) got directly to families as possible while retaining the necessary cushion of financial solidity for Unbound.

Back to walking and human rights. I doubt any of us reading this plan any 4000 mile walks in our lifetimes. What we can do, however, is slow down and walk through our town, our country, or another country and observe the human rights challenges, with an eye to doing something about them.

To extend that example to Tallahassee and my home state of Florida, human slavery steals the rights of women (and some men). In the United States, pick any of a number of issues.

As for other countries, if you have an opportunity to visit and see for yourself, do it. In the meantime, there are plentiful ways to improve your awareness and make a difference.  (One of my favorites is Half the Sky.) In memory of Bob, I also encourage you to visit the Unbound site and consider sponsoring a child, giving a monetary gift, or even simply spreading awareness by sharing Unbound’s message on social media (or face to face!).

One of Bob Hentzen’s most repeated quotes is:  “Society has told them [the poor] all along that they are not capable. We are here to tell them they are quite capable. You are not alone. We are walking with you.” When it comes to the topic of human rights, I encourage you to take a page out of Bob’s book and walk …. blazing a path of awareness and compassion.

Bob and Sponsored Children

Bob and Sponsored Children

(Each year, Blog Action Day “brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day.  Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty,  Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.” This year’s theme is human rights.)


25 thoughts on “Bob Walked; Everyone Grew

  1. Pingback: The Happy Friday Series: The Big Green Lovely Pen |

  2. This was a beautiful post about Bob, CFCA and all that Bob stood for. I was lucky enough to meet Bob in May of 2009 during a service trip to Guatemala to work in San Lucas Mission. Bob happened to be riding around the town on his big white horse and stopped to talk to the sister who was chaperoning the trip, who had lived in Guatemala for years as well. He then invited us to CFCA later that day to come learn all about it. He was wonderful and so inspiring! And yes, we even got a song or 2 from him as well!

  3. I’ve been a beneficiary and service scholar (from my 5th grade until I graduated in college) of CFCA in the Philippines. So lucky I had a chance to meet Sir Bob during sponsors’ visit and mission awareness trip here in our country. He’s such a good man. I’m encouraging those with big hearts like Sir Bob to visit CFCA and sponsor a child or even adults and make difference in their lives.

    Thanks for this blog post! 🙂

  4. Paula–this is such a nice tribute–all words speak the truth. While I worked at CFCA Bob came around often and truly was a member of the family and made everyone present feel like a close family member as well. One benefit if working there was we all shared lunch together like a family meal. It was really nice. I will always remember Bob and his work. I miss talking to you every month too–good luck on your running–are you thinking of doing any races in the Midwest or maybe in Fairbanks??

  5. La vida tiene mas armonía cuando la compartimos. siempre hay un motivo que nos une. Bob Henzen. Tuve la oportunidad de escuchar sus bellas palabras el 3 de agosto de 2012 compartí con el 3 días
    el tiempo suficiente que me ayudo a cambiar mi vida.

  6. Pingback: Unbound in the blogosphere | Around the world with Unbound

  7. My wife and I spent a week with Bob and Christina on an Awareness trip to Costa Rica last March 2013. It just so happened that we were in the Holy Land, (in the Garden of Gethsemane) on the day he died. What irony! We found out about his death a few days after we returned to the States. As we read the story on Unbound site, tears flooded the keyboard. Bob was a living saint– the kind of person one meets perhaps only once in a lifetime . . . May his visionary leadership to Unbound never wane, never be forgotten, always be ascribed to!

  8. Paula, thank you for your moving tribute, and for your vision. Bob continues to inspire me with his gentle, balanced leadership. No individual can replace Bob, but together we can continue his “walk,” sponsor and sponsored together, in one Unbound community of compassion. As his successor President/CEO of Unbound, I value each sponsor, and each sponsored person and family, as if that person were worth the whole world to me. Gracias!

    • Thank you for your comment, Scott, and for sharing a bit of how you foresee the future ahead for Unbound. I am thrilled to remain a part of it.

  9. My wife and I went on a Mission Awareness Trip to Guatemala in 2013 with 3 of our boys and spent the week with Bob. Riding with Bob in the back of a truck to one of the projects I remember telling my wife, you know we are in presence of a saint. Truly, Bob was a living mirror of Christ’s love and compassion. We were blessed to be with him and the wonderful people of unbound and families of Guatemala. Thank you Bob for your many gifts.

    • Greg, I feel exactly the same. I had the opportunity to be part of the Unbound Bloggers’ trip in El Salvador last week, and I have to admit I thought “how will it be without Bob?” But his legacy and the lessons he had taught the staff shone through. I don’t have those same questions anymore; he was still with us.

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