April 2020: Due to the Covid-19 health crisis travel on the Camino is not possible. We need to keep safe, and we need to keep those who live and work on the Camino safe. The Camino will not disappear, it is just temporarily inaccessible. Keep your Camino dreams on hold until such times as it is safe to travel. Read more
As a member of the Australian Friends of the Camino, I was invited to share with you about Camino for Good. I am Lindsay Teychenne pictured on page 12 with Kelly Gilfillan in 2018. We are two of the co-founders, and are honoured to share money raised from the sale of our Virtual Camino de Santiago hiking app to provide desperately needed relief funds to Camino albergues.
How our company came about is a bit of a Camino tale, so I’d like to share our journey with you.
As Kelly says… ‘The App is our business – providing relief to albergues is our mission.’
At the time of writing, Camino for Good has provided relief funds to nine albergues to the tune of $26,100 USD ($33,5137 AUD). We are hoping to do so much more.
The seed of the idea came from Susan DePue while she was ‘racing’ (walking) virtually with Kelly across Tennessee in May 2020. The event would have been an actual race but, rather than cancel due to the pandemic, the organisers got creative and made it virtual.
Kelly and Susan, both from Tennessee, originally met as walking buddies preparing for their first Camino in 2018. I met Susan a couple of times when our paths crossed in Spain and have since become friends.
Susan shared her idea with Kelly. The premise was 200,000+ people will not be able to walk the Camino in 2020 due to the pandemic, so why not provide them the experience virtually. As they walked “across” Tennessee, they were spurred on by the on-line tools to record their daily distance and track progress to eventually complete 1000 miles walking locally.
Early one morning, I got an excited video message from Kelly about the idea of creating an on-line Virtual Camino experience. We need someone with data experience she said – I WAS IN.
Classic shell marker
We quickly decided, inspired by the GoFundMe project that Margaret Caffryn initiated for Casa Susi pre-pandemic, that it would be a great way to raise funds for the albergues hit hard by restrictions in global travel. Sue from Casa Susi was one of the first people I reached out to for advice. Eventually, Casa Susi was one of the first albergues we could help and have become great supporters.
We needed a multi talented and experienced team. Two people became three, and three became five with veteran pilgrims Bill Austin and his amazing daughter Shaylyn joining. A lifelong friend of Kelly’s, Bill was the person who inspired Kelly to consider the Camino.
Camino for Good partners began to set up the business structure and engaged a development company, F1V. The Camino provided this too, as Kelly’s daughter’s partner introduced her to F1V. The principals had an interesting connection to the project. Veronica, originally from Madrid, had always dreamed of hiking the Camino. She and Fabio were so inspired by the mission they decided to join us, providing their expertise for the project. The five have thus become seven.
We may very well be the first official virtual Camino family.
The work and effort involved presented many challenges (much like the Camino). Our learning curve was huge. However, our belief in the importance of what we were undertaking empowered us to accept that we were up to whatever obstacles lay ahead. As a group we are proud to have contributed thousands of professional hours in this labour of ‘love of the Camino’.
We decided early on that we wanted to create a great product that gives regular incentives for virtual pilgrims to ‘keep on walking’ for their own personal health benefit while also experiencing a genuine story of life on the Camino.
John Brierley gave his permission and encouragement to quote from his popular guidebooks and we collected audio stories from pilgrims from around the world including Tassie’s very own Meredith, Brett and Laura.
We wanted to let our virtual pilgrims know what life was like along the Way. We wanted them to engage with each other. We wanted people who may have never walked the Camino to have a taste of what being a pilgrim is like – ‘to touch and be touched by the best of humanity’.
To that end, Camino for Good has become more than the Virtual Camino App. It is the website, newsletters, blogs, Zoom Cafés, Instagram and Facebook presence and private forums that bind our ever growing community providing support, advice and information.
Our personal Camino photos bring the Virtual Camino to life. In that screenshot from the app, (see right) the vibrant lady on the right is Linda Eedes, another member of my 2018 Camino family. Linda is a professional photographer from South Africa who eagerly and freely provided about 3000 photos for us to select from to tell the story within the app. To Kelly’s left is Ann Broiche from California. All three ladies on the right, due to the Camino, are now friends for life.
As for the lady far left… I have no idea who she is – she just wanted to join in with the Yoga sisterhood at that moment and then she was gone. I remember she was an Aussie and by her accent I suspect from Queensland.
Like any business, it is the volume of sales that determines how effective Camino for Good’s mission will be. We believe we have created a unique and ever-evolving product with genuine competitive market value. That we are able to ‘do good’ with the proceeds is a great source of joy for each of us.
The effectiveness of our marketing strategy has contributed to its initial success. The publicity work continues. Our latest campaign, March to Santiago – A Journey of Hope and Healing, starts on 1 March and enters Santiago in July for the Feast of St James week festivities (virtually). The March will be supported with simple weekly meditative reflection exercises to inspire and validate the spiritual essence of the Camino.
The future? More routes, more images, more stories, more connection.
Watch this space!