David Pennington plans on pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion by running from the US/Mexican border to Vancouver to raise awareness about plastic waste in the oceans, sea life, coral habitat, and the culture of Raja Ampat, Indonesia.
The 2,700-kilometre journey is expected to take two months. Pennington, co-Founder of the Friendly Drifter Foundation, which creates sustainable waste management solutions for remote areas, plans to speak to as many people as possible along his way.
“After volunteering and organizing beach clean-ups in [Raja Ampat] during the spring of 2015, it was all too apparent these efforts are only effective if there was easy access to recycling methods; currently none exist,” said Pennington. “I know the importance of our oceans health, protecting it should be a priority.”
He chose Raja Ampat in part because it has more marine biodiversity than anywhere else on the planet. Alone, it comprises of over 1,500 species of coral reef fish, and 75% of all hard coral species in the world. Plastic debris is contaminating that marine life, resulting in devastating consequences for the oceans and the local population–fish being their main source of food.
Pennington spoke with Vancity Buzz about his fundraiser and the gruelling physical and mental challenge ahead.
Are you at all nervous about the distance you are travelling?
Yes, I am nervous. I always question myself when taking on ambitious endeavours. This run isn’t supposed to be easy. I enjoy challenging myself physically. I’m able to access parts of me that aren’t normally accessible without being pushed to the limits. I started training last summer while working at a jade mine. I would go on runs after a day’s work. However on my last trip to Indonesia in January I contracted malaria, an ordeal I was happy to survive. I had to start from square one and questioned whether I could even continue with the run. I have recovered very well and decided to continue. Most of my time since has been spent building my muscle back. I lost 50% of my strength in a matter of weeks. Take your anti-malaria pills!
What is the purpose of this fundraiser?
We are raising funds for Friendly Drifter initiatives and to raise awareness about plastic waste in our oceans. I’ve noticed some media coverage on plastic waste in our oceans lately. Whether you’re saying no to plastic bags at a checkout counter or saying no to disposable cups at your local coffee shop, these daily choices make a huge impact over a lifetime. Knowing the plastic lid on a coffee cup will outlast you on this earth is thought-provoking.
How did you come up with the idea to do this?
We will be using the funds to build and operate a waste management facility in Waisai, Raja Ampat’s main city. We will also construct a barge for collections throughout the surrounding islands, start a community compost program, create programs for educating children, and work with community leaders to help spread our message.
Are you ever discouraged by the fact that the problem you are taking on is so large?
I wouldn’t say discouraged; there will always be hiccups along the way. I understand I am working with different cultures and traditions but as long as I see progress I’ll be happy. Not only are we focused on creating a waste management system, but we are also very focused on educating children about recycling and the environment. This is the heart of Friendly Drifter. It’s encouraging seeing these children. I’ve never seen happier children in my life. It takes one generation to instil change in a community. I will devote my life to this.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to do a fundraising project?
1. Show that you are passionate about it.
2. Get out there. Meeting people has a bigger impact than sending emails.
3. Don’t get discouraged.
4. Understand that because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean every one will be but don’t let that stop you.
5. You will meet incredible people along the way. When you do meet people with the same concerns, sparks fly.
For more information on the Friendly Drifter Foundation, to learn about its founder and partners, or to participate in the journey, visit www.friendlydrifter.com.