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Suzanne completes her 75km walk for Christian Aid's 75th anniversary.

Suzanne Shepherd's 75 Challenge

Published on 23 March 2021

Belfast septuagenarian begins 75 km walking challenge just 4 months after surgery for a cancer that made walking unbearably painful.

A cancer survivor from east Belfast today began a 75 km walking challenge to raise funds for charity, just 4 months after surgery for a cancer that made sitting and walking unbearably painful. 

Suzanne Shepherd (73) was diagnosed with cancer in late June 2020. She received urgent surgery in August and again in November, spending a total of 31 nights in hospital. Now she is celebrating her recovery with a week-long walking challenge on the roads around her Belmont Road home to raise funds for her favourite charity, Christian Aid Ireland.

Suzanne expressed her gratitude for the medical and nursing care she received, particularly at a time when NHS resources were focused on the coronavirus pandemic:

I feel very lucky to have received my surgery because I know that many patients had their operations cancelled because of coronavirus. And although it was a shock to find out I had cancer, I’m so thankful that the operations have taken away the pain I’d suffered which had become quite unbearable.

Suzanne is one of Christian Aid’s most dedicated supporters. Her fundraising over many years has raised many thousands of pounds and until lockdown last March, she was also volunteering weekly in the charity’s Belfast office. Christian Aid Ireland Chief Executive Rosamond Bennett praised Suzanne’s stoicism and generosity:

Suzanne Shepherd walks 75 km for Christian Aid's 75th anniversary. Here, she's pictured standing on the roadside.

camera icon Suzanne Shepherd walks 75 km for Christian Aid's 75th anniversary. Here, she's pictured standing on the roadside.

Suzanne is a truly exceptional lady, always cheerful, thankful and focused on the needs of others. Like so many of our most dedicated supporters, Suzanne shows great love and compassion for the suffering of others even when facing difficulties in her own life.

Despite last year’s health scare, Suzanne explains that the greatest sorrow of her life came in 2013. She and her husband Derek were on a flight returning from a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to New Zealand when he became unwell, collapsed and died.

Suzanne and the late Derek Shepherd at nephew's wedding.

camera icon Suzanne, pictured here with her late husband Derek Shepherd, at nephew Andrew Megarry's wedding. - Christian Aid Ireland

It’s a loss that Suzanne is still coming to terms with but it hasn’t diminished her appetite for charity work. And Christian Aid isn’t the only good cause to benefit from her generosity. Suzanne spent 50 years as a volunteer leader with Girlguiding Ulster and twenty years fundraising for Marie Curie. Her charity work even earned her a BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2013.

This week’s walk around the roads of east Belfast - one kilometre for each year since Christian Aid was founded 75 years ago - is Suzanne’s gesture of solidarity with the many women in developing countries who set off each day on long and often dangerous journeys on foot. Climate change has brought drought to countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and women are having to walk further than ever in search of water for their families and livestock.

Suzanne’s challenge was inspired by Rose Jonathan (69) who lives in Dili village in the Kitui region of Kenya. During the dry season, Rose walks for seven hours a day to collect water for herself and her family - the six grandchildren she cares for alone since her husband died and her daughters moved to the city for work. Suzanne explained why Rose’s story touched her particularly:

Rose Jonathan, a grandmother from Kenya who must walk miles each day in times of drought to fetch water for her family.

Rose and I are of a similar age and we have both been widowed. But where I am choosing to walk, and I’m grateful I’m well enough to take on this challenge, Rose has no option but to walk for miles every day in search of water.

Elsewhere in Kenya, Christian Aid has built a sand dam (a low-tech water source) for Florence Muthiani and her community, just a short distance from her village. With easy access to water, Florence has been able to grow fruit and vegetables to feed her family and surplus to sell for cash.  She also manages 10 beehives and sells the honey for cash at the market.

Before the water source was built, Florence would spend 8 hours a day collecting water but now she has time to develop her farm business. She has a cow, a donkey, two turkeys as well as some goats and sheep. Florence told us: “I am very happy now. I have strength and power. I have learned to depend on myself.”