Altruism v Africa

Andy Norris hitches a ride on a tuk-tuk in Sudan on his trans-African quest to r

Andy Norris hitches a ride on a tuk-tuk in Sudan on his trans-African quest to raise money for Help for Heroes.

On a good day travelling is a life-altering, spirit-refreshing experience, but on an off day you feel like a frivolous, decadent, self-centred bastard, right up there on the selfishness scale with hedge fund managers.

Yesterday night on the streets of Khartoum, while wading through a mob of destitute refugees from Chad, I felt like a pointless passenger, a greedy voyeur, contributing zilch to the world.

The children, from about 4 to 10 years old, were full-contact begging: grabbing, wailing, bottom lips thrust to their fullest, refusing to give up until locals intervened and then spiteful because they had not scored their one pound. I can’t be sure, but some of their hands seemed to be pawing at my shorts pocket. I later found that one button had been unfastened – but nothing seemed to be missing.

Initially I was annoyed at their persistence, I resented the intrusion – why is no one helping these people? After I calmed down, guilt set in.

A Sudanese man told me that Khartoum, indeed the whole of Sudan, is awash with refugees from Chad, Niger and Ethiopia, fleeing strife, the military or looking to eke out a decent reality. Apparently these children have the right to go to school in Sudan, but their parents often send them out onto the streets begging to support the family instead. Another local told me the kids can’t go home until they earn a certain limit – although I’m not completely convinced this Dickensian quota system is as endemic as he suggests.

As a traveller/tourist my money may help these kids for a few days, but in the long run it may just perpetuate their poverty, breeding dependence. So can we offer anything of worth or are we just hapless spectators? I believe a traveller/tourist’s actions can indeed make a difference – although they may appear utterly insignificant at the time.

Retelling the above story and talking with locals about it as much as possible (as I did on three occasions) opens up the debate so that these children are not the unseen and forgotten problems of Khartoum, destined for a life of squalor. This is the pittance I can offer, but over the past few weeks I’ve met a couple of altruistic travelling case studies seeking to make differences to something closer to their hearts – of course,while quenching their lust for adventure.

Red, Johnny, Chris and Jack (Enda Africa) on trusty 'Doris'.The first was a group of university students from Belfast driving overland all the way from Ireland to Cape Town (20,000 miles) in their stuffed-to-the-gills 13-year-old Toyota four-wheel-drive ‘Doris’. Self-funded and reduced to a dietary intake of cheap falafels plus on a ludicrously tight schedule, Johnny, Red, Jack and Chris (see are raising money for their charity of choice, Camara, by collecting money to sign Doris, who is now covered by a marvellous compendium of monikers – at £1 (at least) per scribble, with over 500 so far.

Camara, a fledgling Irish-based charity (see that re-distributes used computers from the west to African schools, is looking to raise its profile: a perfect match with the falafel-fuelled quest-seeking young men.

Johnny, who owns Doris, has tasked the reluctant Jack with washing the signatures off come South Africa so he can sell the car to help fund the journey – perhaps a penance for Jack driving 40 miles with the hand-brake on. Everyone plays their part: Red is the ideas man and tout-bouncer while the newcomer Chris plays the straight man in a four-way comedy road trip.

About the same time of meeting the four Irish lads I stumbled across Englishman Andy Norris, who is cycling from the Spion Kopstand at Liverpool FC’s home ground, Anfield, to Spion Kop in Ladysmith, South Africa, scene of a Boer War battle that claimed 243 lives in 1900.

The trip is personal for Andy, 52,whose leg and back were injured by a hand grenade in a training accident that ended his military career with the Royal Green Jacket regiment.

Andy is a self-confessed obsessive personality with an unrivalled adventure addiction. He camps wherever he stops, including in the middle of the desert, and sets off unenviably early to beat the mid-day spiciness of the vicious north African summer (see

Such is his enthusiasm, Andy probably would have done this for kicks, he has ridden through Africa before, but in an intensely personal statement, he has chosen to help out war veteran charity Help for Heroes.

Each will leave their small, distinct marks on Africa, a place where altruism and adventure collide with results that cannot be gauged until long after their tyre tracks have faded.

Steve Madgwick