Photos courtesy of Dr. Brandy Strelec
It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. And it was, just not in the way Dr. Brandy Strelec expected. She and friend Kelly Hammond were part of a team planning to make the trek to the Mount Everest base camp in 2015, but after they arrived in Nepal, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake had devastating effects on the country and its people. About 9,000 people were killed, thousands more were injured, and millions were displaced from their homes. For Strelec and Hammond, their challenge shifted from the trek to just getting home safely.
The timing of the trek had been significant for Strelec—she was one year cancer-free at the time and part of the purpose of the trip was a celebration of that milestone. Now, four years later and five years cancer-free, Strelec will return to Nepal for not just another attempt to make the trek to base camp, but to do some humanitarian work to help a country that is still recovering from the earthquake and its aftershocks. And this time she’ll have her husband Dave Van Gelder at her side.
Both are Rotarians, and Strelec has been building a relationship with a Rotary Club in Nepal to help provide water filtration systems for schools in the country. Thousands of schools were damaged by the earthquake and its aftershocks, and by flooding that struck Nepal in subsequent years.
“This country has been hit so hard,” says Strelec. “Because of the flooding, a lot of the schools were left with really disastrous water situations (with no) access to clean drinking water.” A Rotary district grant enabled them to send water filtration systems to four schools. “It’s just sort of blossomed from there and grown into what’s now becoming our next international humanitarian project.”
Van Gelder recalls meeting some Nepalese people at a conference in Atlanta a couple of years ago. “When we talked to them about the devastation of the earthquakes, they were so humble. They were more interested about us than giving any story of their families and anyone they know that would have went through that devastation. They seem like super, super nice people.”
He adds that he’s looking forward to experiencing a new culture and seeing where their fundraising will help.
For Strelec, it will be an emotional return. “I get emotional at the most random times since we’ve now made the decision,” she says. “I am really excited to go back. I want to go back to where I was when the earthquake happened and the tea shop Kelly and I were at. I want to visit, I call him our tea shop man, and see if he’s still there and in broken English talk to him about if his family is okay, because we never got to have that closure. Everyone was panicking and going their separate ways after it happened and trying to get to safety.”
And through it all, the Nepalese people were “so kind and supportive and generous while we were there. It’s an automatic want to give back to them,” says Strelec.
The above photos show some of the devastation following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Brandy Strelec.)
She’s also looking forward to completing what she set out to do in the first place: getting to Everest base camp. “I envision myself at the top of base camp this year in celebration of (being five years cancer-free). It was supposed to be a one-year celebration when we went the first time. So I’ll have a little sign to celebrate with and take a picture at base camp…it just gives it that extra personal deep meaning for me, and for Dave.”
Both are avid campers and outdoorspeople who have travelled extensively. The trip has come together quickly so they’ve just begun training: lots of stair and hill training, along with hikes of ever-increasing duration.
Strelec and Van Gelder are hoping that others will join them for this adventure. Local photographer Heather Douglas will be there for the trek, and some Rotarians from another club will be helping with the humanitarian project. They invite others who are interested in the work project and possibly the trek to base camp to reach out to them.
“We’re looking for a group of eight to 10 people to partake in the humanitarian work,” says Strelec. “For those that don’t want to do base camp, there’s going to be a soft adventure offering of four to five days with another tour guide.” That will include some sightseeing in Kathmandu and local villages. For more information, email Brandy at [email protected] or Dave at [email protected]
“If people are concerned that there’s not enough time, it’s two months away, but there’s lots we can get organized in those two months. It’s not too late for people to join in and come on board. If anyone else wants to give back and they’ve thought about doing it on an international level, this is a good opportunity.” You don’t need to be a Rotarian to participate.
If you can’t make the trip but still want to help, they are accepting donations to help with the work project. They are still waiting to hear back on a grant application. If that falls through, they’ll be about $20,000US short of the $60,000 needed to outfit eight schools. They’ll cut back the number of schools if needed, but any donations “would go to toward making sure we can commit to the eight schools that we are hoping to finish,” says Strelec. Donations can be made via the Rotary Club of Huntsville, which is a sponsor of the project. (Earmark your donation for the Nepal project. Tax receipts will be issued.)
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.