It's fair to say that Matt Napier likes to walk. Even more when it’s walking for a cause.

Which is why he undertook a gruelling 1,900 kilometre walk across Africa’s Namib Desert earlier this year, raising more than $20,000 for a Caritas Australia project aimed at providing better drinking water and food security in a rural area of Zimbabwe, located about 150 kilometres east of Bulawayo.

Matt Napier

STEP-BY-STEP: Matt Napier as he crossed the Namib Desert. PICTURES: Supplied

 

“What keeps me going is knowing that we’re making a difference. And I think at the end of this year’s walk we got to see the people that we’re helping firsthand and just to see how grateful they are and how their life has been changed for the better, it just keeps you going and trying to inspire others to make a difference in this world as well.”

- Matt Napier

He commenced the walk in mid-June, accompanied by his wife Wendy who drove a support vehicle with food and their camping equipment. It took some seven weeks to complete starting on Namibia's border with South Africa and, heading north, ending up at the country's border with Angola.

While blisters and fatigue are always a challenge on such a walk (he uses an iPod to help while away the hours), Mr Napier says there were also some concerns on this walk about lions in one area through which they passed but, “luckily enough we didn’t see any”.

Despite the challenges – and, as Mr Napier notes, nothing really prepares you for a walk of such distance, it’s the thought of who he was helping that pushed him to the finish line.

“What keeps me going is knowing that we’re making a difference,” he says. “And...at the end of this year’s walk, we got to see the people that we’re helping firsthand and just to see how grateful they are and how their life has been changed for the better, it just keeps you going and trying to inspire others to make a difference in this world as well.”

It’s the second major walk the 40-year-old has undertaken in southern Africa – last year he walked 2,300 kilometres across the continent on a journey starting in Namibia on the west coast and walking through Botswana and South Africa before ending in Mozambique on the east coast. In 2013, he also completed a 4,500 kilometre walk in Australia, from Perth to Sydney.

 

Matt Napier and his wife Wendy

Matt and his wife Wendy.

Each time, the walks have been about raising funds to support various projects – last year’s walk raised $60,000 and Caritas, which he says he was attracted to support by what he’s seen them achieve in the field, was one of their charity partners on that walk as well.

Mr Napier, who runs a garden maintenance business in Canberra over the warmer months, says his faith – he describes himself as a "devoted Catholic" – was instrumental in encouraging him to step out on his walks.

“There’s so many references through the Bible about helping the world’s poor and I think we in a country like Australia probably should be doing a bit more. We’re very, very fortunate here and I think Catholics should be probably leading the charge in helping the world’s poorest.”

He says that for him, the walk also has a spiritual element to it. “It gives you an opportunity to reflect on your life and your faith and what you want to achieve out of your life. Hopefully we all get to a stage where we’re in a nursing home at 80, 85-years-of-age, and you sort of want to look back on your life and...be proud of what you achieved and not sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I wish I did this or I wish I did that.’ It’s all about trying to get the most of ourself while you can.”

Mr Napier, who says he’s "not really an athlete", notes that the fact that this year’s walk was through some similar areas to those he had walked through last year made things a little easier.

“We sort of knew a little bit of the terrain and what the people would be like in that area,” he says. “So it wasn’t completely foreign to us.”

One highlight of both trips across Africa has been meeting kids along the way and, as a way of connecting with them, they’ve handed out soccer balls to those they've encountered.

“It always amazes me how little access these children have to sporting equipment,” says Mr Napier. “So, yeah, it really good to be able to provide soccer balls and they love it – it’s just a good way of giving a little bit back while we’re there.”

The Napiers first visited southern Africa in 2013 to help out on development projects in Malawi and Zimbabwe and, says Mr Napier, “just fell in love with the place”.

“The people, the scenery," he says when asked what they liked about it. "It’s just a beautiful part of the world and keeps drawing us back.”

 

Matt Napier with children they encountered along the way

Matt with some of the children they encountered (and one of those soccer balls).

While they’re not currently looking at doing another walk next year (although they have loose plans for some sort of walk in 2019), the Napiers are looking at returning to Namibia in 2018 with the aim of starting a couple of small businesses, employing locals, and providing solar panels to people living in poverty in Namibia.

“And hopefully we’ll expand that through South Africa going forward as well,” Mr Napier says. “And all the profits will be going back into the local communities as well. So, yes, it’s exciting times for us.”

To learn more about Caritas Australia or to make a donation visit: www.caritas.org.au  or phone 1800 024 413. To learn more about Matt Napier visit: www.walktoabetterworld.com.