Back in February, we shared an interview with Matt Napier, an Australian who is passionate about fighting global poverty and was about to undertake an ambitious walk across southern Africa to raise funds and awareness for the world’s poorest people. Matt commenced the walk from Walvis Bay in Namibia on June 4th, and completed it 60 days later on August 2nd in Maputo, Mozambique.
During the walk, Matt survived on less than $1.50 USD per day to experience what it’s like for the millions of people who live below the poverty line every day. Matt recently wrote us to share his experiences below.
Having now completed my 2,300 km walk (1,420 miles) across four countries in Southern Africa, I would like to share some of my reflections of the trip. It was an amazing experience, extremely physically challenging, and also quite confronting and complex in terms of the communities that I passed through.
The walk was a real eye opener for me on many fronts. Firstly, I was trying to put myself in the shoes of the roughly 702 million people around the world who live in extreme poverty. Walking up to 55 km (34 miles) a day was extremely tough. The feeling of going to bed hungry and waking up in the morning with stomach calling out for food was incredibly challenging. I would have to walk 15 or so kilometres before breakfast each day, and sometimes felt so faint I had to stop and rest just to regain my strength. I lost 15kgs throughout the whole trip, and eight of those kilos were lost in the first 11 days. Breakfast consisted of porridge, lunch was instant noodles with a piece of fruit, and dinner was pasta or rice with a few vegetables and a tomato paste base. To stay under $1.50, I had to keep the portion sizes very small, so going back for seconds was not an option. This was clearly the toughest part of the walk— though I am well aware that there are millions of people out there who live on far less.
There were a few surprises along the way. We were not expecting any wildlife, but once entering Botswana were quickly made aware that lions were often spotted along the highway. This certainly put a scare through the camp; I’m not sure whether we were more relieved or disappointed we ended up not spotting a single lion.
During the entire journey, I was kicking and carrying a soccer ball as a way to connect with people in the local communities; it also helped keep my mind occupied on the long, lonely stretches of road. We donated nearly 200 soccer balls to children at schools, community groups, and orphanages. I was really surprised to discover how most people did not have access to sporting equipment. Children in this part of the world love soccer, but very few of them had a ball, and the ones we did see were often just bags tightly wrapped with elastic bands to keep them together.
One thing that really stands out is the value some of the world’s poor put on personal items. When talking to some locals, I got the impression that some people value technology, like a mobile phone, just as much as food on the table and a roof over their head. If anything, this value of material possessions—something many humans experience—helped reduce the gap between “us” and “them.”
That said, I believe one of the important things development programs should focus on is not only providing the resources required to lift people out of poverty, but to also provide training on what to do once they begin generating an income, so poverty reduction is more sustainable.
This trip was also a huge success in terms of fundraising; we managed to fund a project for each of our four charity partners, raising a total of $62,000. The projects are:
A water and sanitation project in Mozambique with Caritas
Mobile eye camps for children in Kenya through the Fred Hollows Foundation
Support for youth affected by HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe with Oxfam
A water and hygiene project in Zimbabwe through Care
Knowing that people’s lives are going to be changed for the better because of this walk is amazing, and makes the walk and everything I experienced all the more worthwhile.
On a final note, for anyone out there wanting to do good and take on challenges like this, my advice is to just have a go and never give up. I never thought I would make it across Australia when I tried to cycle from Perth to Sydney in 2012, but I did. And from that, I then walked across Australia in 2013 and have now walked across southern Africa too. We are now planning our next walk for 2017 which will be in Africa again. I’m no athlete— just an ordinary guy with a passion for making the world a better place. So if you have a dream, chase it.
Thank you for your support.
Images provided by Wendy Napier