(March 2015: Relaunch of a piece about the end of ZANE’s 2013 walk.)
He hit the finish at pace. Tom Benyon OBE, his wife Jane and dog Leah strode the final mile to the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford in full sunshine and right on schedule.
They had covered well over two hundred and fifty miles on foot from Holyhead to Oxford and they had raised, again, thousands of pounds for the bereft in Zimbabwe.
I did my best to stride into the city with them – to capture on camera the little crew waiting to welcome them home. I had bobbed along in the wake of this couple and their dog for the final six miles at the end of a stunning slice of English summer.
Zimbabwe seemed a million miles away – over five thousand miles away a distance calculator now tells me. The distance and the difference made me think … about charity, about giving to strangers.
Giving and receiving can be so complicated even just on a personal basis – put charity into the mix and you have to add a whole new layer of bureaucracy and awkwardness.
The paperwork makes it all official but still, and often for both sides, there’s no getting away from pride, guilt, and thankfulness.
There’s also the shadow of ‘why?’ although, officially, this little word is not the business of charity.
The problem is I am a ‘why?’ person – I always have been. Zimbabwe is currently one of the biggest question marks I have. Why has the land of my birth, and its resilient people, been reduced to this – to charity? This is a strong land of strong people yet here it is – a country that traps lives, attracts carrion feeders and relies on the generosity of strangers to look after its most vulnerable.
It’s not a happy image for a head bobbing through the sunburnt meadows of Oxfordshire. I wonder what Tom and Jane must know and feel. Their heads must be filled with their own thoughts that keep them going.
The cheerful side of ‘why?’ is, as every five-year-old knows, there’s never a satisfactory answer. You can go on forever. A bit like walking – until your hip starts to give way.
I was told on the walk that Tom is only days away from a hip operation. The speed we walked showed no indication of this.
I asked Tom about the pain. He told me that he was so full of pain killers he had no real idea. Then he paused and added that the first 300 metres were the worst – most people with bad hips he thought never needed to walk further than that so they never realised that the pain eased once you’d got half a kilometre under your belt.
I thought vaguely about the remnants of my head cold as Tom powered back to the front with ‘The Coathanger’, a long-legged veteran of the Malayan Campaign, hot on his tail.
“Why?” I thought, imagining a rotten hip as I clambered over another style and gratefully accepted Tom’s steadying hand on the other side.
At least the ‘why donate?’ question is easy. Zimbabwe has little, if anything, in the way of a social services safety net and there are few chances for the majority of formal employment.
Many Zimbabweans, especially the elderly, are trapped and in real need – ZANE, and Homes for Zimbabwe with whom it has joined forces, reaches them carefully and discreetly and is struggling to keep up with demand.
Thanks to Tom’s treks and ZANE, help has become a reality for many – help that restores dignity and hope.