Stella Orechia has taught for 25 years, 15 of those at Bellevue College, as a physical education faculty member. 50 years have passed since she visited her birthplace in Burma and to enhance her journey back, Orechia is going to cycle 1,000 miles through her current home in the Northwest and 1,000 in Burma. This endeavor came to her “as a way to support refugees both here and there.” Orechia is going to cycle in the Northwest to benefit a local organization, Northwest Communities of Burma, and will then continue her trip by cycling a loop in Burma to fundraise for a medical refugee clinic at the border, the Mae Tao Clinic. This sabbatical is a year-long one that began in spring of 2013 and will end during winter of 2013. Orechia will then craft a presentation for the college, which will premiere in the spring quarter of 2014.
Orechia strives to raise awareness for the hardships of these refugees and see her parents’ influence as a catalyst for this feat. “They fled from Burma with nine of us, and their story of sacrifice and hardship is similar to others that were displaced to the US at that time,” said Orechia. Her journey to Burma honors her mother Karen, “who was a multi-sport athlete and PE teacher there. She danced, swam, played competitive field hockey and was a real inspiration to me.” After reaching the U.S., “we resettled with help from the Catholic church, other charity groups and very generous neighbors. I will never forget the kindness from so many in our first years in America and will always be grateful to this amazing country. I hope to give back in some way with this effort,” Shared Orechia.
Orechia is not in this alone. Through the two organizations, NWCB and the Mae Tao Clinic, volunteers and participants can donate to the cause or sign up to ride with Orechia at various parts of her course. The NWCB is an organization driven primarily by volunteers who provide “community events, education and advocacy for Burmese refugees and helps them towards their social and professional goals.” The Mae Toa Clinic is a health care provider and training center for displaced Burmese and ethnic people on the Thai/Burma border. Orechia will work as a volunteer for this clinic while in Burma. “Any contributions made to this effort are done directly at the two organizations’ websites. They are linked to my Riding for Refugees site,” www.stellasbiking.wordpress.com. Orechia’s intent is to “blog and provide information on these trips, exposing visitors to the work being done for this ethnic group.”
Never before has Stella done [anything like] this.” She has ran in “many road races and relays for charity,” and has “participated in several triathlons and enjoys [a] challenge.” When asked if she has plans or aspirations to repeat a similar feat in her lifetime, Orechia responded, “Sure got any ideas? I will continue to support these two organizations in creative ways.”
She encourages others to “live purposefully, believe in something bigger than yourself and ‘walk the talk,’ or in this case, ‘cycle the chat.’”