Striding out to help others

Naomi Shaw with some of the children at the orphanage in Ndaga that she supports and, on the front page of Family Life,    Naomi with her future daughter-in-law and fellow walker Claire Hummerstone
Naomi Shaw with some of the children at the orphanage in Ndaga that she supports and, on the front page of Family Life, Naomi with her future daughter-in-law and fellow walker Claire Hummerstone
Picture: Shutterstock

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Spending 15 days in anyone’s company without a break would put most relationships to the test.

So imagine agreeing to live side-by-side with your future mum-in-law for that length of time.

It’s a good job Naomi Shaw and Claire Hummerstone get on, because they’re planning to complete a 200-mile charity walk together to raise money for an African orphanage.

Less than a year before Claire marries Naomi’s middle son Jesse, the pair will team up for the tough challenge.

All mother-in-law jokes have been put to one side as, with a laugh, Claire jokes that there can be no better way to earn brownie points with her future in-laws.

In reality, Naomi’s enthusiasm for an orphanage in Tanzania has rubbed off on 22-year-old Claire.

And as the duo prepare for the walk that will take them across three of the UK’s most beautiful National Parks – the Lake District, the Pennines and the North Yorkshire Moors – they’re looking forward to their adventure.

Following in the footsteps of renowned writer and hill walker Alfred Wainwright, they’ll walk between 12 and 15 miles every day, spending their nights in a tent to keep the costs down.

‘The lazy part of me thinks “I could stay at home this summer” but I can see how much this means to Naomi,’ explains Claire, from North End, Portsmouth.

‘A lot of people think we’re crazy but we’ve been encouraged by the support we’ve received.’

The walk is their way of raising money for a group of children in a village called Ndago, right on the border of Tanzania and Zambia.

As members of the New Frontiers group of churches, Naomi, her husband Richard and their film-maker son Ruben, flew to Tanzania a couple of years ago.

While there they met a man in Ndago who takes in the orphans left behind by migrant workers who’ve settled in the village but died, often due to Aids.

‘The children are left on their own and this chap began to take them into his own home,’ explains Naomi, from Southsea.

‘It’s become a full-time job. When we went to visit them they already had 40 children to look after.

‘They sleep in bunk beds three on top of each other and the little children sleep three or four to a bed.

‘There isn’t any electricity.

‘He’s looking after about 60 children now and in the last two years it’s grown.

‘It’s not the only orphanage in the village.

‘At any one time there are about 200 children being looked after.

‘We just wanted to do whatever we could.’

Naomi, who has three sons and two grandchildren, adds: ‘I came back really desperate to do something.

‘The thing that got to me was that in two years, conditions haven’t changed.

‘They still haven’t got any electricity.

‘They need the very bare basics but they aren’t able to do anything about it.

‘They are barely living day-to-day.

‘I’ve got to do something to make the awareness greater so that we can change the situation.

‘Really, it’s about giving them the basics, giving them a leg-up.’

The 50-year-old adds: ‘I’d love to be able to buy them a motorbike so they can get down to the hospital, it’s really basic stuff, a proper toilet.

‘You can’t imagine in this day and age that there are still people living like that if we can do something – and I believe we can.

‘So I thought “What can I do?” I knew I wasn’t jumping out of a plane but I can walk.

‘The women out there walk hundreds of miles, just because they have to, not because it’s a pleasure and leisure time thing.’

The pair will stride out on August 4 and Naomi has already set her sights on raising £20,000 for the orphanage through the walk and other fundraising efforts.

Naomi says: ‘I knew a walk was something I could do so I got on the internet and did some research about the things different people have done.

‘I wanted to do something substantial and the Coast to Coast walk is well known.

‘It’s very tough and with hilly terrain and boggy marshland but we wanted it to be a challenge.’

Claire adds: ‘Naomi said to me “I’m going to do this walk, are you going to do it with me?”

‘In the back of my mind I was thinking “Naomi won’t be doing a walk that long, it might be about 60 miles.”

‘But as we spoke more about it, it kept getting longer and longer.

‘It’s exciting when I think about it now.

‘Some of the ideas that we had at first were crazy.

‘We talked about doing Land’s End to John O’Groats, or a mile for every child.

‘It’s funny because when I talk to people and tell them I’m doing a long walk they think it’s about 40 miles, they’re amazed when I tell them it’s 200.

‘It is quite an achievement.’

They’ve been preparing for the August trip by building up their walking.

And Claire reveals that they’ve already chatted about how they’ll cope with long periods of only seeing each other.

‘When we did our first test walk at Queen Elizabeth Country Park we agreed there would be times when we didn’t want to talk and we’ve agreed to just be honest with each other.

‘We get on so well together now anyway.

‘I think it will be good having each other if I’m having a down day or vice-versa.

‘Doing it together will be fun. We’ll really look after each other.’

They’ll be walking between seven and 22 miles a day with an average of between 12 and 15 miles a day.

But although they’re expecting it to be tough, they’ve agreed that the struggle will be what makes their achievement all the greater.

‘We’re not going to stop at this challenge,’ adds Naomi.

‘My husband has been training and has just done his first mini-triathlon.

‘He wants to do an ironman event and we’ll do something every year for the orphanage now.

‘Whatever this brings in, it’s more than they’ve got now.

‘There are so many needy causes, you see one every time you turn on the TV.

‘But Mother Teresa once said “Love the one in front of you”.

‘There must be some reason that we were exposed to this person and this particular orphanage.

‘I have a lot more than they have. We are in a position to do something about it.’

She adds: ‘They would do anything, given the opportunity.

‘It’s not like they are asking for hand-outs but I feel a responsibility.

‘They are now in our hearts.’