When Kristen Kropp was 20 years old, she embarked on a journey many people older than she — both in experience and in years — never take.
A 2007 graduate of Paonia High School, Kristen was a freshman at Abilene Christian University in Texas.
“School wasn’t quite what I expected,” she said. “And I’ve always wanted to travel.”
So after some soul-searching and a leave of absence from school, she took a three-month mission trip to Nepal. “I prayed about where to go, and Nepal kept coming up. I’ve always wanted to go there, so I decided to make it happen.”
And make it happen she did. Not having a lot of international travel experience under her belt, and no solo travel experience, she researched Nepal and then set out by herself in February 2009. What she was looking for was something different that what she’d experienced in her life thus far.
“I didn’t see myself as having a lot to offer,” she said of the “mission” part of her mission trip. “Mainly where my heart was is that I wanted to gain some perspective, and meet people and be friends with people who are different than me. And if I could help them, great.”
The trip was a definite growth experience for Kristen. Once she knew she wanted to go to Nepal, she got some books and studied up on the region, the culture, the language and the people. “You know, you think you learn stuff from books, but not really,” she said. When she first got to Nepal, she said she experienced culture shock.
“It was really hard. I went into it thinking I was brave and independent,” she said. She couldn’t communicate with the people very well, and she couldn’t show appreciation or affection the way she would at home. “If I gave them a hug they thought I was weird. It was really hard for a while.” After about a month and a half of being in the country, she started to learn the nuances of the language and the social cues of the people, and her time there got easier.
“The biggest thing I learned is that you can’t be afraid,” she said. “You have to be willing to learn and embarrass yourself. That was the biggest lesson for me, to let go.”
On her journey, she stayed with three different families in three different villages for extended periods of time, and traveled the country on her own for shorter periods of time. “The Nepali people are wonderful, generous, super-loving,” Kristen said. “They’ll give you anything, even if they have nothing.”
In the first village she stayed in, Dhading Bensi, she met up with a husband-and-wife team that ran a children’s home called the Faith Foundation Children’s Home. “Lots of love, schooling and amazing food!” she said about her time at this home.
In Nepal, private individuals and families start these children’s homes, instead of a government-based foster care system, like in the U.S. The homes are privately operated and get very little funding from the Nepali government. They are called “homes” as opposed to orphanages because a great deal is taken to ensure that the children in the homes feel like part of the family, Kristen said. All children in the homes aren’t necessarily orphans; some come from very poor families who send them to the homes to be educated.
Faith Foundation housed 10 kids, from age three to 17. Kristen’s job while she stayed there was to help the kids with their English homework — a lot of importance is placed on kids to learn the English language, she said. The most important thing she did with the kids, though, was to play with them. “We hung out a lot, and sang a lot, and played a lot of soccer. It was really great. The biggest thing is spending time with them and getting to know them.”
After staying in Dhading Bensi, she traveled to Madi, the home village of her friend Christina, where she spent a week. Christina’s mother, Kaminizum, is a widow and is raising her 11 children on her own, in addition to farming. “She works harder than anyone I’ve ever met,” Kristen said. “All of the food that we ate while I was there had been grown by Kaminizum. Her story is fraught with unbelievable hardships and heartache, and she’s still praising Jesus. The people are the most hard-working and the most genuine people I’ve ever met. They face mountains everyday, yet many of them keep their eyes on Jesus... He really is their only hope.”
Kristen visited another children’s home in Narayngarh, Chitwan, and then a few weeks later she stayed at another children’s house, Widows & Child Care Trust Nepal, in Kathmandu.
That home left a huge impact on her. It houses between 15-20 children, and is completely self-sustaining. Widows are taught the craft of weaving, and then their handmade goods are sold. The money from the sales pays the women’s salaries as well as supporting the home. “In the Hindu religion if you’re a widow it’s pretty much over, socially and economically,” Kristen said.
When she came back home in May 2009, she brought with her a duffel bag filled with some of the items the women at the home made. She sold them to friends and acquaintances, and sent the money back to the home. She put some of the articles into A Grand Affair in Paonia, on consignment. Now back at ACU in Texas, Kristen is still working on raising funds to send back to each village she stayed in. She is working towards getting a continual supply of the handmade goods into the Paonia store for a more constant stream of income for the home. “That’s been an interesting process,” she said.
Aside from sending money back to each village she stayed in, Kristen is looking forward to going back to Nepal one day. After seeing first hand the Nepali method of terraced subsistence farming, she decided to study environmental science in school. She hopes one day to do international agricultural work, and help the farmers better utilize their resources. She is currently a sophomore in school and is 21 years old. She is the daughter of Kris and Tami Kropp of Paonia.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” she said. “I’m praying about it. I’m hoping that’s okay with God, because I really want to go back.”
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