Well, we are back from an amazing and incredibly productive visit to Nepal. Our preview of Musa Masala: Mountain Girl of the Himalaya, was absolutely incredible and the progress at the Wongchhu Sherpa Memorial Hospital is inspiring. We want to step away from that for a moment to share an awesome post by our new friend, Nora Livingstone. Nora heard about Musa through our Kickstarter campaign and she is truly imbued with the Musa spirit! Please read on and enjoy this remarkable story about Nora’s time in Nepal and the founding of her Animal Experience International. Thanks Nora!

Animal Experience International is a social enterprise that came from my heart and the brain of my business partner. We have sent hundreds of people around the world to volunteer on different animal welfare and conservation programs and we have visited every single one we have partnered with. Why? Because a decade ago I went to Nepal.

I was fresh out of university—bright eyed, bushy tailed and really confused about what on earth to do with my life. It was a time of transitions and some heartbreak. I thought the very best way to deal with real life was to defer and strap on a backpack.

I originally was attracted to Nepal because I love mountains and it literally doesn’t get any bigger than the Himalayas. I also had taken some anthropology courses in university with some profs who had done their research in Nepal. They had always spoken so fondly of the welcoming people and the beautiful cultures. I wanted to go see for myself. I booked a one-way ticket to Nepal and contacted some places that were asking for volunteers.

Volunteering for a number of different programs and living with families along the way, I was able to visit Pokhara, Trishuli, Gorkha, Shindupalchok the Kumbu and all over The Kathmandu Valley. Culture shock hit me a few times. Amoebas in my stomach hit me a few times. Home sickness hit me a few times. But through the whole experience, I kept on saying what everyone else said about Nepal: beautiful country, gorgeous mountains and what friendly and kind people. While trekking in Gorkha, I went over on my ankle and within 20 minutes I had a Nepali mother heating up some oil so she could give me an ankle massage. Classic Nora clumsiness and Nepali hospitality!

The Nepalis I met were so friendly and welcoming, but so were the people I met who chose Nepal as their new home. Everyone had the same story. They had come to Nepal as tourists once and ended up never leaving or always coming back.

The meeting that changed my life forever was with Jan Salter, the founder of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre. Jan passed away this year at the age of 82 after living an incredibly adventurous and service- filled life. She had travelled around the world by herself in the 1960s and came back to Nepal to live in 1975. She trekked around the country, sketching and painting the whole way. She made portraits of people from all castes and ethnic groups and in 1996 collaborated with Harka Gurung, a Nepali scholar to produce the book Faces of Nepal.

In recognition of her contributions to raising awareness of the cultural heritage of Nepal, in 1997 King Birendra made Jan a member of the Order of Gorkha Dakshin Bahu. In 2004, she expanded her focus from women empowerment and human rights to the rights and humane treatment of animals. She founded the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre to help the almost 30,000 street dogs in Kathmandu have a better life. The KAT Centre provides free animal birth control, rabies vaccinations and medical care to dogs, cats, monkeys and any other animal that comes into the gates. So extraordinary in mission and execution, in 2013 she was appointed MBE for her services to animal welfare in Nepal.

Back in 2007 when we met, I knew she was extraordinary and was immediately a life long supporter of KAT. I told her I would volunteer at the centre in any way she needed me. One of the first things she needed was a poster made that explained animal birth control. They had the photos, a computer and the copy. They just needed someone to put it together. As I had just finished university, my number one skill was making fancy posters. I was able to finish it that day! In 2016, I was able to bring my partner to visit Jan in England. The first thing she mentioned to him was this poster and how she knew I was a wonder because I was able to do it so quickly and how KAT was still using it! There were other odd jobs that needed to be done: cleaning of dogs’ ears, walking excitable dogs, sweeping kennels and, of course, the design of other posters.

I loved my time volunteering at KAT. Seeing so many stray dogs in the Kathmandu Valley broke my heart. They often have mange, open sores, unhealed wounds and were limping. Knowing I was a part of the solution to their suffering was empowering. Knowing that there was a team of good guys helping these animals made the solution to this insurmountable problem seem obtainable. Knowing that just by making a poster I could help others understand the importance of spaying/neutering animals was a high that I still feel today. It was something I wanted to share.

I went back to Canada in 2008 and began working as a volunteer coordinator at a wildlife centre where I met my now business partner. In 2011, after I had left the wildlife centre and was still trying to figure out what to do with my adulthood, she approached me with an idea: Why don’t we start a social enterprise? We could help people volunteer with animals at international programs. I had lots of international volunteering and volunteer coordinator experience and she, being a wildlife veterinarian, had a good head for business, and the ability to provide oversight and make sure these programs had a high standard of animal welfare.

My first call was to Jan Salter, I wanted people to feel what I felt when I volunteered with KAT. I wanted them to feel empowered, important, valued and like they could change the world because if they listened to what KAT needed, they could.

While I am always happy when people sign up to volunteer with AEI, there is a special heartstring that gets pulled when they sign up to volunteer in Nepal. It’s a country that has meant so much to me for so long. I am sincerely excited to know that I can share it with others. It’s not a stretch to say that Nepal changed my life, but then again I am sure it’s not a stretch to say that Nepal has changed a lot of lives.

Learn more about AEI at animalexperienceinternational.com.