Pensacola, Florida
Saturday August 24th 2019

Archives

Climbing For a Cause

By Jennifer Leigh

Doug Landreth has dedicated most of his life to advocating for marginalized groups.

From his volunteer work with Gay Grassroots and Pensacola Pride events to his job as HIV Educator at Okaloosa AIDS Support and Informational Services, Landreth spends countless hours helping the local community.

Now, he’s going international. This summer, he’ll be “Climbing for a Cause” at Mount Kilimanjaro with nonprofit group Friends Together. From July 1 through July 20, Landreth and a small group will be distributing medical and school supplies to people in need in Tanzania, Africa as well as climbing to the highest summit of Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

“I think it’s important to put your feet on the ground and be involved meeting the people in these circumstances and look them in the eyes, let them know they’re not alone,” he said.

Landreth became involved with Friends Together a few years ago. The nonprofit organization is spear-headed by Cathy Robinson-Pickett and Steve Pickett and offers HIV/AIDS related services. They also organize relief trips to Tanzania. Landreth hoped to be a part of the efforts during their trip last year, but emergency back surgery put him out of commission.

“Doctors warned me even with surgery, I may not walk again,” he said. “But I’ve recovered, I’ve persevered. Now, I am able to use walking for a real purpose. Come hell or high water, I will do it.”

As a gay man growing up in the epidemic of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, Landreth said he remembers the subject being taboo. Most people didn’t want to be connected to it. Still today, he sees that stigma.

“No one group, no one group of people are any less worthy,” he said. “Stigma is not exclusive to the U.S. I want to bring some sense of hope. Let them know that people do care.

Landreth and his partner are both HIV positive, but that’s not why he’s taking this trip. Landreth lives a “life of gratitude,” he says, appreciating all that he does have, things that are often taken for granted. This trip is about helping those who are less fortunate than him, particularly children, whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS. In Tanzania alone, there are 1.3 million children who are orphaned due to parents dying from AIDS. HIV/AIDs has reduced the life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa from 62 to 47-years-old.
Volunteers of Friends Together are raising money to donate supplies and freight them to Africa—most supplies such as medical are not readily available in the villages they will visit. It’s surprising to see what goods are most appreciated.

“The children always love the chocolate candy that is brought, but often are more excited about pencils and tablets and often ask for them instead of candy,” Landreth wrote on his GoFundMe page. “They wanted to better themselves, for in the world of so much misfortune they still had hopes and dreams of something better.”

So far, Landreth has raised more than $4,000—halfway to his goal of $10,000. Volunteers raise money for airfare but pay for lodging in small huts out of their own pockets. He’s utilized social media to help get the word out about the trip. Not only has he raised money, but awareness. And inspired another local to join the trip.

“I listened to Doug’s fundraising video—it was awesome,” said longtime video producer Elizabeth Watkins. “I contributed and kind of in a half-serious way asked ‘Do you need a free camera person?’”

The answer of course, was yes. Watkins has been a video producer for more than 30 years covering news events in Nicaragua, Cuba and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, her hometown. She understands the importance of compelling photos and videos.

“You can read the story or listen to NPR, but to see it…that’s what grabs you,” she said. “That’s why I’m doing it.”

In the past few weeks since she volunteered to travel with Friends Together, Watkins said she has “learned so much” about HIV/AIDS and the effects it has in Africa.

HIV/AIDS in Africa is one of the most important global public health issues in recent years, and AIDS is one of the top causes of death. While only comprising less than 15 percent of the total population of the world, Africans account for nearly two-thirds of those who live with HIV and are dying of AIDS.  Of the estimated 22 million people have died from HIV-related illnesses worldwide, 17 million of them have been from Africa.

“We sit in America and don’t really know how good we have it,” Watkins said. “So I want to bring this story home.”

For Landreth and the rest of the group heading to Tanzania this trip isn’t one for sight-seeing or leisure touring, but one of perspective, he said.

“I want to come back and tell donors stories of how people have made a lasting impact on someone’s life … someone they don’t even know,” he said. “We are all one people.”

————————

FOR MORE INFORMATION

You can learn more about the Friends Together service trip and donate to Doug at  gofundme.com/climb-for- a-cause- african-mission.

You can also donate these items to Doug, which will be freighted to Africa. Contact Doug for pick up at 685-2881 or e-mail hdljr@hotmail.com.

MEDICAL
Latex and Vinyl gloves
Diabetic Supplies Synergies
Alcohol Pads and Wipes
Sharps Containers
Splints
Medical Tape
Elastic Bandages
Non-Glass Thermometers
Slings, Braces (knee, ankle, arm)
Antibiotic Ointments
Antiseptic Wash
Eye Drops
Pain and Fever Relievers
Muscle Pain Cream
(over the counter items passed expiration dates are acceptable)

HYGIENE
Vaginal Cream
Tooth Paste and Tooth Brushes
Dental Floss

SCHOOL
Pocket Paperback Dictionaries
Solar Power Calculators
Flashcards (Math, English)
Rulers
Colored Markers and Pencils
Pencil Cases
Erasers
Backpacks

RECREATION
Soccer balls, Basketballs and Volley Balls (deflated)
Durable Jump Ropes
Athletic Bags
Playing Cards
Dominos, Checkers, Jacks
Travel Size Board Games

To learn more about Friends Together, visit friendstogether.org.