Kelly Gerlings

Kelly Gerlings spent a wondrous 29 days in Nepal in May 2013and is currently writing this from Johannesburg, South Africa, though she is from a small town just north of Toronto. As a political science undergrad at the University of British Columbia, Kelly could not imagine a more intense learning experience than every joy and challenge contained in traveling. She prefers nights spent in conversation, days that destroy comfort zones and moments made of music, tea, and crazy colored socks.

Why did you decide to volunteer with DWC in Nepal?

Kelly and students

Kelly: I was introduced to DWC through a teaching assistant in university. I applied for the position of Team Leader, as it seemed like an amazing opportunity and combined everything I enjoy—travel, meeting other passionate people, making connections around the globe, challenges. I chose Nepal as the destination because of the project that we would be working on: partnered with Creating Possibilities Nepal, a social organization that works for the welfare of disadvantaged children and women in Nepal, we would be contributing to the construction of a classroom and teaching English to students in the Dang district of Nepal. The school we worked in supports the education of girls that CPN has bought out of bonded labour. My research of DWC and its practices, plus the recommendation of my teaching assistant, convinced me of the sustainability and ethicality of DWC’s volunteer trips.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Kelly and fellow DWC volunteers at the construction site

Kelly: There was no one typical day on a DWC trip, and I’m sure this applies to every country in which there are currently projects being supported. For us in Nepal, we spent a handful of days in Kathmandu at the beginning and end of the trip to stock up on snacks, see the sites and adjust to the time and cultural differences. We spent two and a half weeks in Lamahi, Dang, Nepal, where we stayed in a small hostel/hotel and took a jeep ride in to Chainpur, the village where the school was located.

We worked on construction for a week, waking up before the sun to beat the heat, laying bricks and moving cement, and one week teaching English in some of the classes, grades 7-10, during teacher examinations. A delicious local lunch was always provided by some of the mothers that CPN supports through micro-financing mother’s groups, which we spent a few days visiting and learning about. Afternoons and evenings were spent back in Lamahi, recharging, reconnecting, debriefing. Breakfast and dinner was lovingly provided by the family who owned the hotel. Weekends we toured around Nepal, with a trip to Lumbini and a trip to Bardia National Park.

If you could go back and do something differently what would it be?

Kelly: If I went back to Nepal with DWC, I would stay longer, quite simply. DWC works in 2-4 week trips usually, but I wish we could have had even more time. CPN was an absolutely amazing host and they do inspiring, if difficult work—I would love to have been able to learn even more from them, and from the students and girls we met. We had a wonderful time with the children in Chainpur at the school and got quite close to them while we were working, making it very difficult to leave. Though we finished our construction goals, I would love to spend more time teaching and getting to know the children even more.

Ten years from now, what’s the one thing you think you’ll remember from the trip?

Kelly and fellow teaching volunteers

Kelly: Apart from the absolute brilliance inherent in Nepal and its culture, I think I will definitely remember the connections I made with the staff at Creating Possibilities the most. Dinesh, the program coordinator, and Nura, the administrator for CP, welcomed us with so much kindness right from our arrival and treated us wonderfully throughout our stay. Dinesh accompanied us to Dang and stayed with us there; he and I had some amazing conversations regarding development work, charity and international solidarity. Nura was very much a didi, an older sister, for all of us—she is an inspirational woman and a great role model, caring for us like family. I will remember dearly their compassion and their dedication to their cause, and I look forward to the day I will be able to return and visit them. DWC gave me such an unreal opportunity to develop these connections with such amazing people. I will never forget that.

Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

Kelly Gerlings with fellow Developing World Connections volunteers

Kelly: My worldview always changes as a result of any travels I take, as I gain a much more intimate understanding of the country I have travelled to. Being able to have these stories from Nepal, of our time in Kathmandu, our weekend travels, of the women and girls we met—this deeply changed and challenged the way I think of Nepal, and the way I imagine myself in context of the world. Even with all the talk of “global village” and increased communication and knowledge sharing, it is not easy to imagine complexly the lives of people outside of one’s comfortable life, your comfort zone.

Traveling and working in Nepal has given me the ability to see, to experience, to have known for a short while the realities and landscapes of life in Nepal. This gives me an intimate handle, a mental image, a sensory recall of what ‘Nepal’ contains within it—no longer just a place on a map, but an extraordinary journey in my life.