- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - As Kristian Gaylord’s gap year continues to unfold in unforeseen ways, his sense of mission is increasing.

The 18-year-old Hendersonville native has taken up a personal drive to aid Nepalese villagers left homeless by a devastating earthquake in April. He hopes to raise funds to provide needed medicine, blankets and other supplies to help stave off illness and exposure in the brutal winter weather.

“If the people in these mountains in and around Laprak are going to survive and stay healthy this winter, we need to act now,” wrote Gaylord in a recent email to his family regarding the crowdfunding campaign he has launched.

Gaylord is a former Christ School student who graduated in June from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham. He is now based about 90 miles from Kathmandu in the Gorkha region of Nepal, where he is starting to make trips to the highland village of Laprak to deliver aid, often on foot.

“I have seen first-hand the piles of stones lying as a testimony to the houses that once stood, the relief tents scattered around the villages, and the people who have been affected by the current state of Nepal,” wrote Gaylord, who arrived in Nepal in October for a trek to the Everest base camp.

It wasn’t until December, when he heard about Miththu Tamang, a 55-year-old who died of exposure in the nearby village of Dolakha, and Dev Karki, a village elder of 82 who died alongside Tamang, that the villagers’ dire situation started to “become real” to him.

“I pictured my parents, both well into their 50s,and my grandparents, all of whom are well into their 80’s, sitting in the corner of a tent trying to stay warm without fuel, without a house and without a blanket, in temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and ultimately losing their lives,” he wrote.

That was when Gaylord, the son of Hendersonville architect Ken Gaylord and speech pathologist Denise Layfield, resolved to help in any way he could; he canceled planned trips to Thailand and Vietnam to head up to the mountains near the epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed close to 9,000 people and displaced more than three million.

“It’s remarkable to me, and I’m proud that my 18-year-old son has decided to go to that place where people are between life and death,” said Ken Gaylord, who had joined his son for a month to trek to the Everest base camp.

The 3,400 people of Laprak, and many more thousands further north, are living in tents and tin shacks with no fuel, essentially no electricity, and very few blankets, according to Kristian.

A border blockade against Nepal by India is not helping the situation, especially in regard to availability of needed medicines. Kristian has consulted with a local clinician to determine what medicines are most needed in Laprak, which is 7,300 feet above sea level. He has based himself in Gorkha Bazar, about 20 miles “as the crow flies” from Laprak.

“It’s technically possible to drive to Laprak, but it takes about the same amount of time as walking,” he said. “When I went last week, I walked there and hitched a ride back in the only Jeep they had seen in days.”

For the month before Christmas, Kristian had been working as a volunteer on a school construction project in another remote village, Asrang, also near the epicenter.

“This is my first time in Nepal and I love it,” he said recently. “It’s quite a wonderful country - great food, nice people, cheap prices and a truly amazing landscape.”

Before Nepal, Kristian had visited Holland and walked the Camino de Santiago from southern France to Finisterre on the coast of western Spain, a 27-day journey of approximately 560 miles.

While in Nepal with his father, a contact made in a hotel connected Kristian to a man who was funding a school construction project in the town of Asrang, which led to Kristian volunteering on that work site for three weeks. Kristian’s Asheville friend Conor Stuart-Roe also joined the father and son on the base camp trek.

But it wasn’t until Christmas Eve as the young men arrived back in Kathmandu that Kristian got inspired to help the villagers in need.

A funding goal of $46,000 has been set to cover the cost of medicines and blankets for about 2,000 households in the area around Laprak, where overnight temperatures range around 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The people in Laprak are in good spirits despite being horribly neglected by their government,” he said. “There has been a lot of aid already brought to Laprak, but it hasn’t been enough as the temperatures continue to drop.”

He has no contact with any NGOs or local authorities, “although I see the shiny UN and Oxfam trucks buzzing around the central part of Gorkha Bazar every day,” he said.

After the adventure of his gap year winds down, Kristian Gaylord will travel to Menton, France in August to begin a dual-degree program with Sciences Po, a French university based in Paris, and New York’s Columbia University. He plans to work toward a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies through Sciences Po; he is undecided as to what his degree from Columbia will be.

Taking a gap year was a natural choice for Kristian, who was ready for a breather after years of academic rigor.

“I feel like there are many more large and important pieces of living life other than school that I have yet to explore,” he said. “As someone who has always been interested in foreign language and culture, I thought it would be best to conduct my exploration abroad.”

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Information from: Times-News, http://www.blueridgenow.com

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