National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s 21,000-mile walk around the world is about slowing down to appreciate what’s around you.

But if you want to join Salopek, don’t slow down just yet. Any Scouts or Venturers who want to walk alongside Salopek in Asia for a few days of his journey have until Sept. 1 to enter the 2017 Out of Eden Walk essay contest.

All Boy Scouts or Venturers who attended the 2017 National Jamboree or a 2017 summer program at Philmont Scout Ranch are eligible to write an essay and be considered for the top prize. Remember those cool Passport Journals Scouts and Venturers received at Philmont or the Jamboree? These essays will incorporate observations recorded there.

The big prize: Two lucky winners will join Salopek in Asia for a leg of his trip. (And, yes, Youth Protection rules of two-deep leadership and no one-on-one contact will be followed each step of the way.)

This Out of Eden walk is the same opportunity I first told you about back in December.

Hurry to this site for 2017 National Jamboree participants or this site for 2017 Philmont Scout Ranch participants to learn more.

A young person’s passport to intentionality

Scouts or Venturers who attended the Jamboree or Philmont received Passport Journals. The journals, covered in this National Geographic story, encourage young people to reflect on these once-in-a-lifetime experiences through a practice Salopek calls “slow journalism.”

Slow journalism is about taking time to observe what’s around you. It’s about paying attention to the little details of life. It’s about appreciating everyday interactions.

Salopek is looking for Scouts or Venturers who have become familiar with the concept of “slow journalism.” He invites them to write a 500-word essay (about one page) that reflects on their National Jamboree, Philmont and/or Scouting experiences.

Here’s a little more, from the Jamboree opening show:

And the video shown to Philmont participants at the opening campfire:

Last year’s winner

In 2016, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting held its first Out of Eden Walk essay contest.

The winner: Nick Fahy of Milton, Mass., who joined Salopek in Uzbekistan in September.

In his winning essay, Fahy made a comparison between the affluent neighborhood of Milton and the less prosperous Mattapan just to its north. He discussed the atmosphere of the neighborhood, which has seen growth in past years but is still struggling economically.

“[My essay] presented this image of two different Mattapans: one that is growing and one that is stuck in the past,” Fahy said.

His experience in Mattapan carried him to Uzbekistan, where he observed a culture vastly different from his own.

Here is Fahy’s winning essay.

The Old Man and the Seafood

By Nick Fahy

In the trash pail by the side of the road two lottery tickets and a pair of cigarettes slowly disintegrate. The strip to its side seems a wasteland in shades of black and gray, and but for the heat, nothing in the street would tell the season. In the half hour walk down the strip I count five barber shops but not a supermarket in sight, and the only general store is a Dollar Store, graffiti staining the glass windows.

The trash pail itself is a rusting three gallon module of the community of Mattapan in which it lies. The community has in recent years fought a protracted battle against its problems with addiction and dependence, and it manifests itself here, in the twin lottery tickets the consumer who purchased them doubtless could not afford. Across the way, observing the sparse nutritional options, another conclusion comes to mind: this is a community whose children will struggle to grow up healthy if their parents shop for dinner from a drugstore.

It is important — critically important — that slow journalism be active here and in other impoverished communities. Rather than sensationalize, as oftentimes is the goal of the 24-hour news cycle, the goal of slow journalism is to create awareness of the problems in our society, and as such inspire change. When slow journalists report on their findings, the public, informed and inspired by this demographic of journalists, can act to solve society’s biggest problems.

An hour’s walk from the trash pail, a man sits on the ledge of a building twenty years condemned smoking a cigarette. He goes only by his last name, Bay, and he’s just finished the rehab workout his doctor prescribed to recover from his recent knee-replacement surgery. I sit, and we talk, and he tells me he doesn’t know whether Mattapan is changing for the better. “For Mattapan to change, the people have to want to change,” he tells me. Do they want to change? “That’s the thing. I don’t think so.”

The situation looked bleak from the condemned building that afternoon. But as I walked home later that day, I smelled something different from the gasoline and pot smoke common to the strip : seafood. A new restaurant with a small paper sign in the window reading Mattapan Fish Market had just opened across from the new health center. A young child in a red vest stood outside, inhaling the smell of fresh fish. So perhaps, amidst all this desolation, there was hope.

The biggest hope for towns like Mattapan caught in the vicious cycle of poverty is simple : opportunities for children. It means investing in education in impoverished areas, providing healthy food for kids, and ensuring Mattapan’s newest generation has the resources necessary to resist gang violence and addiction. Perhaps that is the core lesson of slow journalism – that to break the patterns of a place that doesn’t want to change, we should invest in our future.

Read some of the runners-up here.

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