Interview: How one man is trekking a continent and taking on a cause

Interview: How one man is trekking a continent and taking on a cause

Matt Napier is passionate about fighting global poverty—and is undertaking an ambitious walk this summer across southern Africa to raise funds and awareness for the world’s neediest people. Matt recently chatted with The Life You Can Save via email, and shared his thoughts about the global community’s responsibilities to the extreme poor, and how Peter Singer’s philosophy transformed his personal outlook.

The Life You Can Save: Matt, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You’re currently planning a walk across four countries in southern Africa in an effort to help some excellent charities combat global poverty. Tell us about your plans, and about the charities that inspired your walk.

Matt Napier: In June I will be setting off on a 2,250-kilometre walk from the west coast of southern Africa to the east coast. I will be passing through Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique.

The main purpose of my campaign Walk to a Better World is to raise awareness about poverty and to highlight the obstacles the world’s poorest face on a day-to-day basis. I will be encouraging my supporters to pledge at least 1 percent of their income to help end extreme poverty through the online pledge on our campaign website.

In terms of median income, Australians are among the wealthiest in the world, so we need to be doing our fair share to ensure that every man, woman, and child has access to food, clean water, education, and basic healthcare.

I have teamed up with four fantastic charities that are leading the way to ending extreme poverty through sustainable development, and in doing so, ensuring a brighter future for the world’s poor. They are Care Australia, Caritas Australia, Oxfam Australia and The Fred Hollows Foundation.

TLYCS: You’ve previously cycled and walked long distances to raise awareness for international poverty, both times in your home base of Australia. Tell me what those experiences were like.

MN: Yes, this is not the first long distance challenge I have done to raise awareness of global poverty. In 2012 I cycled across Australia, and in 2013 I walked 4,500 kilometres from Perth to Sydney, via Adelaide and Melbourne. The walk took five months to complete and I bounced an Aussie Rules football the entire way. I walked in temperatures ranging from 45 degrees right down to minus 8 [Celsius]. 

Both journeys gave me a great opportunity to talk to thousands of school children about global poverty and how important it is to be an active global citizen. I also spoke to members of parliament about how Australia should be doing more to alleviate extreme poverty—instead of cutting the aid budget as we have been doing over the past few years.

TLYCS: Peter Singer is one of your campaign ambassadors for Walk to a Better World. How has his work influenced your thinking about international poverty?

MN: It is fantastic to have someone of Peter Singer’s ilk on board as an ambassador for the walk. I first came across one of Peter’s books not long after I returned from a trip to Nepal to visit a friend of mine. It was the first time I had seen extreme poverty firsthand. Children as young as four and five where begging on the streets for food, and people were literally dying of starvation and disease right there on the streets.

On the flight back home to Australia I thought to myself, Why should I be so lucky to go back to Australia and lead my privileged life here and leave these poor people behind? The only difference between us was the country we were born into.

On arrival home a friend thought I would find Peter’s book The Life You Can Save an interesting read. I resonated very much with his philosophy and have changed my life completely. My wife and I now live a very basic lifestyle and donate 50 percent of the profits from our business to charity.

We are currently working on incorporating what we have learned from Peter’s latest book The Most Good You Can Do into making sure that we have the most impact as possible through our charitable giving. This was very much the inspiration for the research I undertook before selecting the Charity Partners for my walk. Most importantly though, we have never been happier or felt more fulfilled and thank Peter greatly for being such a great influence in our lives.

TLYCS: All 10 of the countries with the highest rates of poverty are located in sub-Saharan Africa, and one in three Africans are chronically undernourished. How do you think your trek will change your views of extreme poverty and the people who support themselves and their families such small sums?

MN: It saddens me greatly to know that one in three children in Africa are chronically undernourished but yet so many people in the developed world turn a blind eye to it. I am planning on spending time in villages along the way to get a better understanding of poverty, and I’ll be making a documentary that aims to show the human side of extreme poverty and the effect it has on families. We need to tell stories that viewers can relate to in their own lives, if we’re to convince more people to contribute funds to combat global poverty.

I am expecting this walk to be a real eye opener for me. I am sure the walk will only make me want to be more of a voice for the world’s poor as we fight for equality in this world. One of the main things I want to get out of it is sharing the message that we are all human and that we should leave no stone unturned in helping the world’s poor break the poverty cycle. We have done some fantastic work by halving the number of people living in extreme poverty since 1990, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

TLYCS: You’ll be kicking a football—what we Americans call a soccer ball—along the entire distance of your trek. What was the inspiration for that?

MN: I believe sport can play a really big part in alleviating extreme poverty. It brings people together from all walks of life on a level playing field, so I like to incorporate sport into all my awareness raising campaigns.  It will also be a fantastic way of connecting with communities I pass through on the way.

On my walk across Australia in 2013 I actually bounced an Australian Rules football the entire way. It helped on the long and lonely days having something to take my mind off the walk and also helps in gaining media attention as well.

TLYCS: Thanks so much, Matt! I wish you all the best for the upcoming journey and thank you for being part of the movement to end extreme poverty.

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About the author:

Rhema Hokama

Rhema Hokama is former Director of Communications for The Life You Can Save and holds a PhD from Harvard.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.