Advocacy, Community

Bringing Hope to the community

Hope Walk organisers Vita Vaka and Bary Neal. Photo: Matt Brown.

Two friends hope people will turn out in force to support those whose lives have been touched by suicide.

Marlborough man Bary Neal lost his son, Matt, 22, to suicide in 2016 while his friend and Hope Walk organiser Vita Vaka suffered from depression.

Together, the pair hope this year’s walk will start conversations about suicide and let people know support is on hand.

Organiser Vita Vaka says suicide is a topic close to his heart.

“I do this because I wish people were there walking with me through it,” he says.

The walk takes up to an hour, depending on the size of the crowd, and makes a loop circuit around Blenheim – starting and ending at Seymour Square.

In 2017, nearly 1000 Marlburians turned out for the region’s inaugural Hope Walk after organiser Bary Neal heard of a guy in Auckland starting a similar event.

Bary handed over organising the event to 30-year-old Vita last year, after he moved to Dunedin for work.

But now back in Blenheim, he continues to be a passionate advocate for the walk.

He organised the first event in Blenheim in 2017.

“I thought, why not?”

“Rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I got out and did something,” Bary says.

“It’s made a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

Bary says the event is about encouraging people to open-up.

“To not sit at home and feel like a burden,” he says.

Bary, a competitive speed walker went through a double hip replacement, then a marriage breakup before the death of his  son.

“At that stage I didn’t want anyone around me,” Bary says.

“I put on a brave face, but I would hide and have a cry.

“My best mate didn’t have a clue, but he checked up on me every other day.

“I kept thinking, my boy is looking down on me being miserable, so I wanted to do something to help people who were having similar trouble” he says.

Vita says Hope Walk itself is a type of suicide prevention.

“It’s a day to remind people how valuable they are to life,” he says.

“People have some kai and are informed about the support networks,” Vita says.

“It’s important people know the support is there.”

The Hope Walk begins at 10am Saturday 28 September at Seymour Square.

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