Harsha's Hitch for Hope

Inspirational, Life after OB

Harsha Guntakala took part in our BCITO Young Leaders 21 day course in November 2020. In May 2021, Harsha and five others hitchhiked the length of NZ to raise funds for mental health, raising almost $60k!

Harsha shares how his OB experience inspired him to take part in this special hikoi.

I attended Outward Bound in November 2020. My watch was Batten 671. Every day is amazing at OB. It gave me the willpower to follow my heart. It is scary, but when we follow our heart it brings a lot of happiness and joy.

Every day is a highlight at OB. Low light was when we performed Haka for Quin and Angi because at the moment I realised that I was leaving OB. That last journey is definitely scary. I didn't want to leave there into a conditioned world. But Quin said it’s the time to follow my heart and create change.

One thing that has really stuck with me from my course that I have taken into my day-to-day life, is finding my true north. In most daily situations I’m thinking about true north and magnetic north. And I also remember nothing is impossible. We can do anything and everything. All I need to do is change the way I think. These two mantras guide me wherever I go.

And you could say it is those guiding thoughts that got me involved in Hitch for Hope. I was at a Health and Safety conference with my company this year May. At the conference, one of the branch managers was talking about workplace safety and the importance of talking at work.

While she was talking, she broke down in tears. It was a big meeting with all the industry officials there. I was shocked. Then she said, "we don’t speak to each other enough". She said, "people will feel lonely if we don't talk - the way my daughter felt and she committed suicide. She was only 17 years old". That made me feel really upset.

It is so easy to just fall back into the daily routine and forget to be who we are. I was talking to my friends and they mentioned to me that they too have mental health issues. They faced mental health problems but I didn't know about it. So, I felt like I needed to do something. We had been talking about doing a hitchhiking race, so I thought of making it a race with a purpose. I spoke to my company boss and he offered to match every dollar we raise. My friends joined me and our journey started.

It took me 23 days to hitchhike from Auckland to Cape Reinga, Cape Reinga to Bluff, then Bluff back to Auckland. On the whole journey I got 90+ rides and of those rides, 84 people faced mental health illness problems and they shared their experiences and suffering with me.

It was so incredibly inspirational. I cried with them, laughed with them and I realised how important these little acts are. There are days and times where no one wanted to pick me up - freezing cold temperatures, walking on the long, unending roads. Sleeping on the side of the road is an incredible experience. Apparently I am the first Indian person who has hitchhiked the whole country of New Zealand!

All the money we raised was donated to I AM HOPE FOUNDATION. Where people get free counselling sessions if they're going through hard times. And there is a long waiting time for government funded counselling.

Currently I’m planning to walk the length of the country with 160 legends of New Zealand. This is still in construction at the moment. This is my dream project but will take some time as I’m seeking sponsors. I am very excited for this and very scared as well. I will be kicking off this journey next year in September.

Wish me luck!
Harsha - Batten 671