The next time you’re in Lahachok, Nepal, keep your eyes peeled for children playing soccer in Capilano College jerseys. The team shirts were flown overseas under the auspices of one of Cap’s IT Services analysts, Kelly Mah.

For years, Kelly’s friend Jennifer Wade had been talking about the projects she works on in Nepal. While visiting Nepal in 1997, Jennifer and a partner had forged a friendship with a Nepalese man called Navin, and then decided to form a team to help support Navin and his family in their effort to buy a home and farmland. Since that time, the team has helped to build durable water canals to irrigate the land around 755 households, greatly increasing crop yields.

Jennifer had invited Kelly and his girlfriend to participate in this group effort, called the Nepal Irrigation Initiative, conducted through the InnovativeCommunities.Org Foundation. In the past, says Kelly, many farmers could only produce enough of a crop to feed themselves for three-quarters of the year. Now, many not only feed themselves all year but have enough crops to sell, so they can buy other necessities. Of course, this money supports the local economy as well.

Kelly said seeing the Annapurna mountains and the Himalayas had been on his “bucket list.”

“I thought that this was just a great opportunity to help with Jennifer’s efforts and see the country itself,” says the 48-year-old.

The nine Canadians who went on this particular trip—which began with a five-day trek in the mountains, using porters from the village—had also been asked to solicit donations.

“We were told that the villagers needed soccer cleats, clothes for kids, toothbrushes for kids,” says Kelly. A volunteer for the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team, Kelly asked Milt Williams, the manager of Cap’s Athletics & Recreation department, about possible donations. Williams realized that the university had many old soccer and volleyball uniforms that were no longer used because they said “Capilano College,” not “Capilano University,” as the school was redesignated as a university in 2008.

“So he gave five sets of uniforms, probably a dozen soccer balls, and that was just an amazing gift,” says Kelly.

There was only one problem.

“The Nepali people are very small, especially the kids, and these were men’s jerseys,” he says. So when they got to the village, they decided to further employ people there by contracting tailors to sew up the inseams in the shirts, transforming them into men’s small instead of large to extra-large. The team negotiated a fair price, but each jersey alteration still only cost about 40 cents CAD.

Before his group left the village, Kelly says they managed to scrabble together a soccer game to give the jerseys a workout. This, despite obstacles such as the local children being in the midst of exams, difficult weather and the death of a village elder, which had pitched the area into extended mourning.

Those issues didn’t get in the way of the Canadians, including Kelly, doing some useful digging in the canal, however. Kelly also helped introduce some of the villagers to the five computers the group had purchased over the years. Internet was still not available when he was there in the spring, but is now—when one of the numerous rolling blackouts is not in effect.

Kelly has travelled the world as an Ultimate Frisbee competitor, and says he doesn’t really experience culture shock. While the people he met in Lahachok were poor, he found them to be extremely friendly and surprisingly cheerful, given their many challenges. “They just seemed so genuine.”

Their positive attitude may have been contagious. While the group was in Lahachok, a Hindu festival took place that involved people throwing coloured powder at each other. Kelly— who now plans to return—says he was smiling so much during these celebrations, and was so happily covered in colourful powder, “people felt I was Nepalese.”

Submitted by Marketing & Communications