Tana Silverland may seem a little out of place riding her recumbent tricycle over a snowy West Kootenay mountain pass but as far as she’s concerned, the more odd looks she gets, the better.
Ten months in to an epic, two-and-a-half year journey, the transplanted British citizen is trying to attract as much attention as she can while slowly pedalling her way across Canada in a circuitous route that has already spanned 3,000 kilometres through the Yukon and B.C. alone.
It’s all part of Silverland’s passionate effort to raise the profile of an international charity that many North Americans have never even heard of.
SOS Children’s Villages provides loving homes for 78,000 orphans and abandoned children in 130 countries around the world.
One of its roughly 500 “villages” is located in Surrey but Silverland said most British Columbians she’s encountered on her journey so far know little if anything about the organization.
“Even in Europe (where SOS Children’s Villages originated) it’s much lower profile than it deserves to be,” she said. “I was living in the same town as the U.K. office for nearly 10 years before I even realized that they existed.”
When Silverland did learn about the organization, she was struck by the approach it takes to caring for children who have lost their parents.
“It’s a family-based model rather than the just the big dormitory orphanage type of thing,” she explained.
“The kids actually get a mom that loves them and takes care of them throughout their childhood, just as my mom did for me. I just think that’s so incredibly important for a child — to have that love, to have that security, knowing that someone’s there for them, that someone loves them.”
Silverland initially volunteered with SOS Children’s Villages in the U.K. but a love for the natural beauty of Canada prompted her to immigrate to this country, where she planned to do more voluntary work with the organization.
She soon discovered that her choice of local transportation — an unusual-looking recumbent trike dubbed ‘Ranger’ — garnered more interest than the actual work she was doing. As a result, her mission “evolved” into a cross-country trip on the human-propelled vehicle.
Silverland figured she could do more for SOS Children’s Villages by raising its profile — city by city, town by town — on what she expects to be a 30-month journey from Whitehorse, Yukon to Cape Spear, Nfld., along a winding route designed to bring her through as many Canadian communities as possible.
How long of a trip will that be? Silverland doesn’t even want to calculate the total distance.
“I’m quite deliberately not adding it up,” she said. “It probably would be quite scary.”
Along the way, Silverland tries to speak to schools, service clubs and local news organizations to spread the word about the charity she is so passionate about. And though she’s not specifically seeking donations for SOS Children’s Villages, she said many of the people she’s met have decided to support the organization financially after learning about what it does.
To that end, as well, Silverland is relying on generous locals in every community she visits to provide her with meals and accommodation.
“It’s actually because I have no money and I didn’t want to be asking for money to support me,” she said. “If anybody wants to give money as a result of what I’m doing I want them to give it to SOS Children’s Villages, not to me.”
So far, Silverland said “the kindness of strangers” has “exceeded her expectations” and while the decision to rely on random Canadians to welcome her into their homes was borne out of necessity it’s ended up becoming an integral part of her trip.
“It’s actually turned out to be the most wonderful part of doing this journey, because I’ve gained so much more of an insight into the places I’ve been visiting and it’s just made the experience so much richer,” she said.
After travelling from Grand Forks to Rossland last week, Silverland made her way over a snowy Paulson Summit to Castlegar, where she spent the weekend. She left on Monday for Nelson where she was scheduled to speak to Daybreak Rotary Club early Tuesday morning.
From there, it’s across Kootenay Lake by ferry and down to Creston, then eastward to Cranbrook and beyond.
All along the way, and well into 2012, Silverland plans to spread her message about SOS Children’s Villages.
“They are working with the most vulnerable children who quite literally have no one, giving them a future they can look forward to rather than dread,” she said. “Every child should have that opportunity.”
You can follow Tana’s progress on her blog — tanasilverland.wordpress.com — which also contains links to the local and international websites of SOS Children’s Villages.