Without a Paddle


Wanstead resident Ben Harris has completed a six-week kayaking (and unexpected hiking) expedition in Africa. Sarah Squires from Centrepoint – Ben’s chosen charity – reports on the action man’s heroic efforts

Ben Harris, a kayaker from Wanstead, found himself stranded in Tanzania after his boat was destroyed in a storm. Ben, who was raising funds for homelessness charity Centrepoint, aimed to be the first person to solo kayak the length of the world’s longest freshwater lake, Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa.

Lake Tanganyika is one of the African Great Lakes. At 673km long and over a kilometre deep, it contains nearly a fifth of the world’s available freshwater. Its banks are shared by four African nations: Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The action man travelled from Mpulungu, a small village in Zambia (the lake’s most southern point) to Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi (the lake’s most northern point).

Despite the shipwreck, the 21-year-old geography student didn’t admit defeat, and after kayaking 350km, bravely hiked 400km to the endpoint.

The shipwrecking storm was not the only challenge Ben faced: he was rescued by a fisherman after capsizing in crocodile-infested waters; a local man plugged holes in his leaking kayak with melted plastic from a bucket; he became seriously ill and hooked to a drip, and even had a close encounter with a hippo.

“It was the most challenging and exciting six weeks of my life. I’ve learnt a lot, dealt with a lot and had to put up with a lot! But when I look back at it all now, I can’t help but smile,” said Ben with mixed emotions just after he completed his challenge.

This wasn’t his first expedition. Previous challenges include a solo, unsupported cycle from London to Barcelona; canoe and hiking expeditions in Canada’s remote Yukon region with the Inuit people; mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, and five months of solo travel across South America.

His recent heroic kayaking and hiking efforts raised over £12,000 for the homeless young people Centrepoint supports. Ben’s determination to complete his challenge has been incredible to watch and we’re grateful for his support. He couldn’t be raising funds for homeless young people at a more critical time. Before the pandemic, youth homelessness was already at a crisis point. Between 2019 and 2020, around 8,500 young people were facing homelessness in London. We expect these numbers have increased due to the pandemic. This, coupled with young people seeing a 25% cut to their Universal Credit now the temporary uplift has ended, paints a worrying picture for youth homelessness going forward.

Sarah is Centrepoint’s community and events fundraising manager. For more information on Ben’s expedition and to donate, visit wnstd.com/bharris