How many people would be brave enough to embark on a trip to Australia without spending any money and relying on the kindness of strangers?
That’s exactly what Elaine Harris did last year, raising more than £10,000 for a cause close to her heart.
Mum of two Elaine, who lives in Broughty Ferry, is no stranger to raising funds for charity in weird and wonderful ways.
“For the last 14 years I have travelled back and forth to the Cape Verde Islands where a huge part of my heart lies,” says Elaine.
“Having lived on the island of Sal for four years from 2006, I fell in love with the island, the way of life and the people.
“After returning to Scotland I made many trips over to take supplies for people in need such as flip flops, clothing, toothbrushes/toothpastes, Xmas presents for the kids and so on,” she explains.
“However, in 2017 I was talking to a volunteer at a charity and I could see a boy was in pain with his teeth.
“After enquiring as to if he could get any treatment, I was shocked to find out that many children and adults suffer in pain for months and years because of not being able to afford treatment,” she recalls.
“An average wage there is £170 and a dentist appointment is £45 plus treatment.
“After further discussion I found out that an optician’s appointment is £45 then upward of £170 for glasses. Before I knew it, I had agreed to help with no medical background and I had no idea what lay ahead.”
That summer Elaine cycled from John o’ Groats to Land’s End solo with no cycling experience, even cycling the wrong way against the head wind to raise the money.
“In 2018 I flew with one dentist and one optician to open the doors of the Cape Verde Dental and Optical Clinic. The first clinic carried out €33000 worth of free treatment,” she says.
“What kept me going during my cycling challenge was the people I met, the fact a kind word could keep me going when things were tough, and this always stayed in my head.
“I wanted the clinic to help even more people so I knew I had to come up with something big for my next challenge.
“With kindness in mind I wanted to do a challenge to show the goodwill of people. Stories these days are normally filled with negativity of the bad side in people but I wanted to show the other side of the human nature.”
As a result, Elaine came up with the epic idea to see how far she could get from he home in Dundee in 10 days with no money, raising money for the clinic through a Just Giving page and also raising awareness of her cause.
She set herself six rules for the journey. “The trip would last 10 days; I was not allowed to ask anyone for help but if people asked what I was doing because of my ‘Help Keep Elaine Moving T-shirt’ I could tell them; I couldn’t spend any money; I could take €100 for emergencies and 10 protein bars; I would rely solely on others for travel, accommodation and food; and I would pay for my return travel back.
“I would also use the powers of Facebook and again show how people can come together through social media in a positive, great way,” she says.
So, last summer, Elaine left on a tractor from her house with her children (Salina, seven, and three-year-old Ariana), family and friends cheering her on.
“My kids were going on a family holiday for two weeks and were so proud of me and excited to follow my journey,” she smiles. “I just hoped I could get out of the UK! I had the first day planned to get moving but after that I was completely on my own.
“Within the first 24 hours she had travelled on a tractor, alpaca, motorbike, taxi and lorry and made it to Dover.
“The press had picked up on the story and my Facebook page was gathering followers,” she recalls.
The second day was spent hitching lorries through France, Belgium and Germany.
“The spirit of the lorry drivers was amazing with each driver helping me find the next driver to continue my journey, with one driver paying my bus travel through Czechoslovakia, Slovakia and Hungry on day 3,” she says.
By day 4 things had really taken off – the Internet had gone crazy, people and companies got in touch to help with food, beds and even flights, so Elaine’s challenge went global and she flew to Israel, then on to Bangkok.
“From day 5 onwards I travelled through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia! I travelled on buses, trains, planes, Tuk tuk and Uber,” says Elaine.
“The people I met on my way humbled me and I will remember and keep in touch with some forever. The kindness and the generosity I was shown astounded me.
“The one thing that was tough was exhaustion from sleeping in planes, trains and wherever I could I could get my head down for a couple of hours,” she reveals.
“Everyone knows how tiring it is to travel for a day so to be in transit continually for 10 days along with rationing food was hard going at times. I was in an actual proper bed twice in 10 days.”
Needless to say, Elaine has many stories from her challenge but one in particular stands out: “I was flying between Brisbane and Sydney and I had just found out that someone had paid for me to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb but I only had flip flops on,” she says. “I could not believe it but a stranger actually gave me the shoes off their feet on the plane!
“Not in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined when I left that I would end the 10 days on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a harness.
“It was all thanks to the Facebook support and people I met along the way. All without spending a penny of my emergency money either.”
The 40000 followers Elaine had on social media from her journey meant that companies and individuals got in touch to help donate equipment for the clinic and consumables.
“Along with the £10,200 that was raised in total, I ended up flying over 4000 items, including two dental chairs to Sal, along with a group of 11 volunteers from the UK, Croatia and Australia,” she says proudly.
“In November last year my clinic opened up its doors for the second time, we worked endlessly for three months, sleeping up to eight of us on blow-up beds in a two-bedroom apartment.
“However, it was all worth it and the clinic carried out a whopping £16,0000 worth of free treatment and helped 1330 children and adults.”
Salina and Ariana love their time in Cape Verde and Elaine believes it’s beneficial for them to get to grow up with the clinic, seeing two very different ways of life.
“I’m proud of what I have managed to achieve so far and I want to show them that with a slightly crazy determination anything is possible if you believe in yourself,” she smiles.
“People keep asking me what I have planned next and I’m not sure how I am going to top the last epic challenge … I need to get thinking as I want the next clinic be even bigger!”
You can see all the challenge and clinic posts at www.facebook.com/capeverdeclinic. Please get in touch if you think you can help in any way.