A Chichester fine-art technician will set out on a 500-mile pilgrimage this summer with a stark message on his backpack: “Suicide is not a solution".
Alongside the words will be an image of Andrea Vassallo’s 25-year-old nephew Mattia who decided in 2014 that his only solution was to take his own life.
Italian-born 39-year-old Andrea, who lives in Lancing, says the trek will be his own way of fighting the anger and guilt he still feels – and a way of regaining his own peace of mind.
“After three years of suffering I decided that it is time for me to do something. I cannot get him back, but maybe I can shout so others hear his voice and try to prevent them from doing the same.
“People who know me know very well that I do not like too much physical activity, and for this reason I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in just over 30 days. I will walk 800km from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
“I am still angry after his destructive act, so I want to raise awareness of all those people like Mattia who are thinking of resorting to suicide.”
Research has shown that 20-27 is a vulnerable age, particularly among males: “I want to make people think that it doesn’t have to be like that.
“Mattia was living with his girlfriend in Italy and there was a little crisis.
“He had never had a very easy life. Looking backwards, some of the things he posted on Facebook could have been a sign, but never a direct sign. It all happened in the March, two months before I took my degree in Chichester.
“I have been up and down over the last three years. I have been very easily stressed.
“For three years, I could not see a picture of him. I could not talk about him. But now that I have decided to do this walk, I can talk about him and look at pictures of him again. I had never had anything like this in my family, but when a person decides to kill themselves, new worlds open up.
“You start to see things in a different way. I now feel very different. I appreciate life much more. I have stopped smoking and stopped drinking.
“I was a naughty teenager when I was younger, but now life is about good food, good life, walking a lot, appreciating things.
“There is still a negative side as well. Things can still be very tricky. It has been a rollercoaster of emotion. I don’t think I have yet closed the circle… But I hope this walk will help.
“I will arrive in Saint Jean Pied de Port on the night of June 25 and I will start the Camino in the early hours of the morning of the 27. I will have 14 days to reach Burgos where my sister Nadia will join me on July 10 and from there we are aiming to reach Santiago in 23 days.
“We will carry a backpack with Mattia’s picture all the way with the message ‘Suicide is not a solution’.”
Supporters of Andrea’s walk will be able to keep tabs on his progress once his walk gets underway.
“During my walk people can track me. I will have an app on my phone that every three minutes will update online my position.
“I will post every morning the beginning of my walk on Facebook and from there anyone can see where I am. You can follow my steps every day and read updates on https://www.facebook.com/andrea.vassallo78?fref=nf.”
You can donate to the cause on https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/andrea-vassallo.
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