Kelli Gustafson is working a world away from Red Deer this spring, and is relishing every moment of what is truly a life-changing experience.
Currently serving at the HORAC Orphanage in Nepal, Gustafson just finished her high school studies last year at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. After that, she ventured off to the University of Ottawa.
But she was restless when considering the months ahead.
“Finally, after Christmas break, I made the decision to drastically change my lifestyle and take a break from the stresses of school. I thought to myself if I could do anything and be anywhere in the world at this very moment, what and where would that be?”
The next thing she knew, she was booking a one-way ticket to Nepal.
“I have always enjoyed working with kids, so to work at an orphanage was something I knew I’d love. I had heard about the Maoist uprisings, and the 10-year civil war that Nepal had just finished fighting a couple years ago, yet I was shocked at the lack of awareness that North America had on these events.”
Gustafson also felt many people were signing up for volunteer stints in places like Africa or India, and Nepal was often overlooked as a location to serve in.
“I wanted to live in Nepal, build a relationship with the orphanage and all the children there, but most of all I am here to learn,” she says. “I am learning about Nepal’s history, their culture, traditions, and so much more. It has opened my eyes immensely, and the experience alone is unfathomable.”
Gustafson describes HORAC (Home for Rescue of the Afflicted Children (HORAC/Nepal), as a wonderful and very family-oriented organization.
According to their web site, the vision includes “The provision of home, love, happiness, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual nourishment, the highest level of education possible, and a hope for a bright future for the orphaned, destitute, outcast, unloved, needy, sick, handicapped and/or dying persons.”
Gustafson quickly knew she had found the ideal place to lend her time to.
“HORAC is a small orphanage with only 32 children; however it’s at full capacity and many of the children sleep on the floor because of the lack of room in the rented house.”
K.B. Shah is the president of the orphanage, and he established HORAC in 2005. Shah’s village had also been one of many that were negatively affected by the Maoist uprisings.
He was planning on moving his family to the safer environment of Kathmandu. But ultimately but he could not bear to leave behind the recently-orphaned children from his own village and surrounding villages.
“Shah took these children with him to Kathmandu, where he looked for orphanages that would take in the children. However, during this period of time, many of the orphanages were at full capacity. Instead of renting a small apartment for him and his family, Shah put every penny he had into renting out a house in Kathmandu, which is now HORAC.”
Gustafson said Shah has sacrificed so much for the welfare of the children, and he has big plans for orphanage expansion outside of Kathmandu down the road.
“Shah and his family, and by family I speak of everyone at HORAC, because they really are all one big family, are so kind-hearted and they would give you the only food they have if you told them you were hungry. They are the most generous people I have ever met.”
Seeing that selfless devotion up close has been a tremendous inspiration to Gustafson she has since created a youtube account called ‘help4horac’ and has also produced online vlogs.
“I hoped that through these vlogs, I would be able to bring awareness to the world about the environment in Nepal, and the children at the orphanage. I wanted people to see with their own eyes and experience Nepal.”
As Gustafson points out, it doesn’t take much in the way of financial help to make an enormous difference. “Even one dollar will buy someone three full meals a day.”
Meanwhile, the entire experience of living in Nepal puts life, and what really matters, in a clearer perspective.
“Here are these children, who have been through some of the worst things you could possibly think of, yet they remain so strong. They still find happiness every day, and they are so grateful for what they have. This experience has made me a more compassionate, grateful, and positive person.”
For more information, check out www.horac.org, www.youtube.com/user/hope4horac, or www.facebook.com/pages/Help4horac.