A MAN who hitch-hiked around Wales for a mental health charity visited Rhydypenau Library to speak about his experience after being invited by a librarian who gave him a lift.
Gareth Owens, 23, from Pembrokeshire, travelled 650 miles over five days, with lifts from 45 strangers.
He came up with the idea after finding out that every day in Wales, 12 people under the age of 16 phone a suicide helpline.
“I thought, ‘This can’t be true.’ Then I researched it and decided something’s got to be done,” said Gareth.
Gareth had lived for three years in Australia and New Zealand, where he would frequently hitch-hike. But his family and friends were still concerned about his new project #GetGazALift.
“My mum was a bit worried, but the way I see it, you don’t have to get in a car with someone you don’t want to get a lift with. You’re in control and you choose,” he said.
Equipped with a tent and sleeping bag, Gareth set off from his home in Haverfordwest on September 5.
“The toughest part was actually on Day One, when I was stuck near Aberystwyth for two hours. I thought: ‘Have I bitten off more than I can chew?’”
However, Gareth’s fortunes took a turn for the better and he made quick progress.
“I was picked up by people from different walks of life. But I soon realised that everyone has been affected in some way by depression or suicide.”
Through Facebook, thousands of people kept track of Gareth’s journey and it became a “trending” story.
“It turned into a bit of a game. I had my GoPro camera with me and I took pictures at famous landmarks. My mates loved it. People were saying: ‘The only reason I use Facebook is to check where you are.’
“I didn’t set out to raise any money,” he said. “For me, the important thing is raising awareness.”
Yet the donations poured in. In just five days, #GetGazALift raised £1,400 for Papyrus, a youth suicide prevention charity.
“The advice I give is to save the Papyrus helpline on your phone. If you want, save it as a silly name.
“It’s good to have the helpline there, just as a safety net for when you’re feeling low.”
Rhydypenau’s librarian, Susanna Thomas, invited Gareth to speak after giving him a lift on his trip.
“I think everybody who came along was really pleased they did,” she said.
“We’d have Gareth back any time.”
- Gareth’s Facebook page: Get Gaz A Lift
- Donate here.
- Papyrus helpline: 0800 068 41 41