How do you inspire action on a global level?
The famine John Abbey witnessed in the Horn of Africa motivated him to come up with a plan. How could he make a point? If he could walk to the Sudan in 5 months how much more could Governments do in a matter of days?
The Walk of Life was born. A 2,000-mile walk from London to the Sudan that started in December 1985 and completed in April 1986. The first time a walk like this had ever been attempted.
The walkers were John Abbey, Brian Seymour and Andy Stuart. Pete Lawton and Alan Munro were the backup team, instrumental in providing support en route.
While the walk was created to raise awareness, the team raised considerable funds for two charities, Christian Aid and War on Want.
I asked John Abbey six questions:
1) What inspired you to create The Walk of Life?
The famine in the Horn of Africa at the time was on a biblical scale. The lack of urgency from governments and aid agencies was staggering. So the lack of action by others compelled me to do something about it. The idea behind the walk was simple. If I could walk to Africa how much more could be done in just a few hours by flying food aid to the stricken areas. So it was a symbolic gesture that turned into a fundraising walk. I wasn’t alone. There were many people equally appalled at what they saw on their TV screens. Perhaps the most famous of them being Bob Geldof, who told me to buy a pair of comfy shoes.
2) How were you able to secure prominent sponsors?
I wrote letters to major companies, newspapers, and anyone that would listen telling them what I intended to do. Most companies didn’t respond, but the ones that did were very positive. We secured major support from BA, Hitachi, DHL, Novatel, Hilton Group, Mountain Equipment, New Balance, and a host of other companies from food to camping gear. Capital Radio helped me find the team members with Raleigh International.
3) What were the hardest parts of the walk?
Overall the boredom of walking. Walking 30 or 40 miles a day for five months for maybe 12 hours a day. The scenery actually doesn’t change that much. We left in December so had to cross the Alps in temperatures well below freezing while in Egypt we had the desert to contend with. Freezing cold at night blistering heat during the day. The feet had blisters on them all the time. One simply learnt to accept the pain and keep going.
4) What surprised you most about the walk?
What an individual can achieve if you really have a passion for something a real calling if you like. You find out that you can achieve anything you want to if you really put your mind to it. Maybe not everything is achievable in life but that is no reason not to try.
5) How did the walk transform your lives?
Surprisingly I don’t think it did singularly. Don’t think because you do something amazing you will suddenly change your life. Many things change your life, and it is usually the thousands of small things that make the biggest difference. But I guess one thing it did do was make it possible to think anything is possible.
6) What would you recommend to someone with a similar goal of raising awareness for a cause?
Get noticed. But, above all, believe in what you are doing. You will have doubts sometimes. I did, but if you know in your gut this is what I must do then do it!
Want to keep up with The Walk of Life?