A pair of roller blades, a 43-pound backpack and no money in the pocket — meet 24-year-old Yanise Ho, who spent several months rollerblading across the United States to “spread the message of kindness” and raise funds for educating girls in Kenya and Uganda. The solo-trip that began from Miami on March 14, 2018 and ended in Los Angeles, took Ho nearly eight months to complete. But she raised more than $30,000 for the cause.
The roller skater, who likes to call herself ‘The Bladress’, is currently in New Delhi, India and is looking to encourage more women to take to travel and find their passion. In a freewheeling chat with indianexpress.com, the Hong Kong-born and US-bred activist talks about her 3,910-mile-long journey from the East Coast to West Coast of the United States, her idea of kindness, and why the world is not such a dangerous place after all.
What drove you to undertake such an adventure?
A few years ago, I had this idea in mind where I wanted to do something unique. Initially, I wanted to walk across America with no money to spread the message of kindness, and to show that humanity exists because I have so much faith in humanity. It hurts me that people think this world is dangerous. I started to travel the world and have been living on my own since I was 16 years and I have seen the best of humanity. People have always been very kind, hospitable and have helped me all through or I wouldn’t have made it. I never felt like I was in danger.
A lot of people who haven’t really travelled feel the world is very dangerous and stay away from the outside world. But that is not true. So, I wanted to show people what I keep seeing through my eyes. So, I decided to undertake this journey. In the beginning, I was in New York when I had this idea and I dropped everything in hand. I started planning it and thought may be, I could make a robot to come along with me to carry my luggage. I kind of sketched it and applied to different companies all over the world with the project proposal. To my surprise, a company in Canada responded. But then, last-minute, I changed it to rollerblading and I just knew that there was no technology that could go that far and fast. I had never rollerbladed in my life. But I thought, I would just learn and go.
You bought your first inline skates pair in 2016 and then undertook this journey almost on a whim. What was it like?
I didn’t think walking would work. I thought may be there are some other means. While biking was the other option, it had been done so many times. Also, for this particular theme, it would have been really fast. And I also didn’t want to take a chance with a broken bike and no money. I would miss out on a lot of surrounding people and opportunities to stop and talk to people if I would have biked.
With rollerblading, I was walking but only a little faster with the perfect speed. I was very noticeable like I thought because people came and spoke to me. I picked up rollerblades, flew to Canada and picked a place to learn and within two months, I trained. I joined a marathon in the US right after my training. I went for a full marathon even when I had no experience of it. And two months after that, I decided to do a test run in 2016 from Savannah, Georgia to Miami, Florida which was about 600 miles with the same idea and no money for 20 days. It was amazing.
You say you have firm belief in kindness. Can you share your experiences?
My idea came from curiosity. People came up to me because I didn’t go to people to ask for money or food or a place to stay. That is the point because if I had asked, then it wouldn’t have come from their heart. For me, kindness is helping someone without expecting anything in return which is what the hosts showed me. They never expected anything in return. A lot of them didn’t even ask me my name or details. They just wanted to help. That touched my heart. Even on the first day, people saw me and the sun coming down and offered me a place for stay, gave me food to eat and it continued to happen every single day. I just knew it was worth what I was doing. I never knew where my next meal was coming from. But, it just always worked out. People came and spoke to me and always asked, ‘If you had eaten yet?’ ‘Come on, join us’. For several months, it worked out that way.
Weren’t you apprehensive about living with complete stranger/s?
I don’t think worrying really exists in my system. So, I just went ahead. The first time on a highway, I was scared. But I just kept going since there was no return. I had been preparing for it for months. The people were genuinely kind and I believe that the majority is actually like that. We just have to have faith in them and they wouldn’t let us down.
You managed to raise beyond your target of US $20,000 for educating girls in Kenya and Uganda through a Canada-based not-for-profit One Girl Can. How was that possible?
When I told people that I was also raising funds for girls’ education, within a minute or two, they would either offer me food or place to stay or donated online at The Bladress scholarship. I think, its a lot of credit to them. That takes a lot of strength.
We raised US $30,000. The girls in Kenya and Uganda are able to go to school through the secondary school scholarship. I am also getting letters from them and they ask me to write to them which is a great source of happiness to me.
What are your plans in India?
In India, I’m creating two-min YouTube vlog series to encourage young females to take the bold step to explore the world without fear. The world is a beautiful place! And I’m also training for dance at the Delhi Dance Academy so that eventually I can incorporate the elements of dance into roller skating to spearhead a modern approach to roller dancing. I also want to invite people from all walks of life to join the project. I am also writing a book about the entire rollerblading journey.