• Canberra man Matt Napier is walking across Namibia to to help end poverty. (Walk to a Better World)Source: Walk to a Better World
"I saw children as young as four and five begging on the streets with no food... and from there I wanted to be a voice for the world's poor."
Alyssa Braithwaite

8 Jun 2017 - 3:02 PM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2017 - 3:20 PM

For most of the time Matt Napier lives and works in Canberra, where he runs a garden maintenance business with his wife Wendy. 

But then, at regular intervals, the Napiers puts that life and business on hold as Matt undertakes great physical challenges to raise money and awareness for global poverty.

In 2012, Napier cycled 3,800km from Perth to Canberra, and the following year he walked 4,500km across Australia while bouncing an Aussie Rules football.

Then in 2016, he kicked a soccer ball 2,300km across southern Africa - from Namibia to Mozambique - while living under the poverty line by spending less than US$1.50 a day on food. Along the way he gave out nearly 200 soccer balls to local communities, sporting groups and schools, and raised $62,000 for Oxfam Australia, Caritas Australia, Care Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation

On Saturday, Matt will fly out of Australia to undertake his latest Walk to a Better World challenge - walking 1,850km across Namibia's infamous Namib Desert and along the Skeleton Coast, through desert and sand dunes in one of the most in uninhabitable places on earth. 

As usual, Wendy will be there to "look after him" and drive the support vehicle.

He expects it to be his hardest trek yet, and is hoping to raise $45,000 for Caritas Australia and Empower Projects through two crowd-funding capaigns: #walk4malawi and #walk4water.

"We sorted of wanted to test ourselves and continue to raise awareness of global poverty," Napier tells SBS.

"We do know that the locals actually call it 'the land God created in anger' or 'the gates to hell', so we're certainly going to have our work cut out for us.

"We know it's very isolated, where we're going, so we've got to make sure we've got enough food in our support vehicle for three or four weeks without seeing anyone. So it's going to be tough."

Matt has been walking 20km a day in preparation for the trip, but will walk around 40-45km a day when he starts his expedition, and will go through three pairs of shoes.

It was all inspired by a 2007 trip to Nepal where he saw extreme poverty first-hand.

"Children as young as four and five were begging on the streets with no food, and they certainly didn't have a school to go to," Matt says.

"I thought to myself- why should I be so lucky to come back to my privileged life here in Australia when the only difference is the country we were born into?

"So from there, I wanted to be a voice for the world's poor."

Matt has certainly had some challenging times on trips. When he started walking across Australia, 13 of the first 14 days were in temperatures of 40 degrees or above, leaving him with blisters covering both feet and battling exhaustion.

Then last year, when he was living on US$1.50 a day, he lost 8kg in the first 11 days, and 15kg in total over two months. 

His stomach shrunk so much it took him three months to start eating properly again and recover fully.

But Matt says it has been worth it as it's proved an effective way to draw attention to the cause. 

"I think it's a good way to get the message out there about poverty - we've found it quite successful so far," he says.

And it brings its own rewarding moments, too.

"Last year, we gave out about 200 soccer balls across southern Africa, and just seeing the smile on some of the kids' faces was absolutely amazing," he says.

"And to know that we are making a difference in the developing world as well is really exciting.

"It's also a really good way to see the world and meet people from different walks of life, and [have them] tell their story about some of the obstacles they face on a day to day basis."

Just days before embarking on their 2017 challenge, Matt and Wendy Napier are already well into the planning their next journey.

"We're looking at doing the world's longest ever triathlon, which will be about a 14,000km," Matt says.

"I'll be kayaking from Stockholm all the way down the Swedish coast to Denmark and finish at the top of Germany. Then I'll walk through Germany, Switzerland, Austria and finish in Rome. And then the plan is to go to Cairo and cycle all the way down Africa and finish in Cape Town in South Africa. 

But first, there's Namibia to walk across. And Matt is raring to go. 


'Filthy Rich and Homeless', a new three-part documentary series, will explore the experience of homelessness when it debuts on SBS on Tuesday 27, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 June at 8.30pm. Each show will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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