By Juniper Rose
After years of anticipation, two failed visa attempts, and support from across the globe, Nepali paddler Dipesh Gurung finally holds the golden ticket to bringing his kayak instructing to the next level — a visa.
With this document and months of hard work and fundraising, Gurung, a DBP 2017 All Wallace Team Finalist, is New Zealand bound for two months of training that is expected to change not only his own life but the scope of kayak instruction in his country. Gurung, co-founder of the Nepal whitewater program Join Adventures, was first invited to attend the New Zealand Kayak School in 2016. As an instructor, Gurung looks to progress and move into teaching intermediate to advanced kayaking techniques.
When it comes to kayak instructing, New Zealand is the opposite of Nepal. Kayakers travel from across the world to train there and be certified by the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association, internationally recognized as the highest bar for kayak instruction certifications.
In 2016 Join Adventure, with the help of personal donations from co-founder Laura Oakley (another All Wallace Finalist this year) sponsored two New Zealand Kayak School instructors, Sophia Mulder and Jess Matheson, to travel to Nepal to work with the JA team and other Nepali paddlers.
It was through this visit that Gurung was offered a space at the New Zealand Kayak School for the following New Zealand summer. To be invited to train with the school was a monumental opportunity, but one Gurung and many others would have to work hard for him to be able to accept. A failed visa application kept him from going to the first training opportunity, and the following November Gurung’s second visa application was also denied.
In addition to the denied visas, expenses were mounting, Oakley described. “I realized that for us to have any chance to send Dipesh to New Zealand we would need the help of an immigration lawyer,” she said. “The cost of which was $3000NZD — already a reduced rate which was kindly offered on a win-only basis.” Combined with other fees and flights, this would mean the total bill would come to approximately $5000NZD, Oakley said.
“If I had personally been given the opportunity to study at the school for 2 months I would have jumped, sold my kayaks, taken a loan or whatever I could to do make it happen,” Oakley said. “Dipesh had the chance, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that was only being held back by money. We started JA to be able to raise our own funds to support these types of opportunities, but at this time we didn’t have the time for that.”
Instead, Oakley used crowdfunding to raise $1700, made Nepali meals as fundraisers when teaching rescue courses in Australia and worked multiple jobs. “Sometimes it’s simpler to just earn the money, so this is what I did so as a team we could take the opportunity,” Oakley said. “Dipesh is our best paddler, he is skilled, respected and with a generous heart to continue to share this knowledge. In reality even if I could take the training I could never reach the level he will with the two months of solid support from the school.”
With Oakley committed to sending Gurung to New Zealand, the paddling community gathered around the team.
American kayaker and former JA trip participant Larry Stewart who wrote a letter of support for Gurung’s visa was one of many who rallied. “Seeing the pay-it-forward mentality within JA helps us all want to participate,” Stewart said. “Paddlers are almost always ready and willing to help others reach their fullest potential. This is no different.”
For the third time, in summer 2017 the team began compiling the visa application yet again. It took reference letters, funds and many supporters in multiple countries working to make one last 100 percent shot, Oakley said.
“I would be trip leading on multiday rivers in Australia and hiking up hill for up to an hour to get phone service to forward emails and connect people so that it could all be done in time for this New Zealand summer,” Oakley said. “In October 2017 we received the news that we succeeded — we had the visa!”
Gurung got the news of the success from Oakley. “I was super excited, it has been so hard to get,” he said. “And I would like to say thank you to all the people who supported me around the world.”
I would like to say thank you to all the people who supported me around the world.” ~Dipesh Gurung
The training is important to Gurung because (as far as Join Adventures knows) no one in Nepal has had a chance to do the training yet, he said. Once Gurung has the training, he plans to bring the techniques to Nepal to teach his fellow kayakers and JA trip participants.
“It feels so good, I feel like such a lucky guy,” Gurung said. “I hope one day I will teach some of the [other Nepali paddlers] and they could come for training and we could have the same knowledge for all the boys.”
It is Gurung’s drive to help improve the opportunities of those around him that lead so many people to want to support him, Stewart said. “Anyone that meets him can tell he’s sincere in his desire to be a true leader and help those under his care,” he said. “We know that we’re not just helping Dipesh but the Nepali paddling community as a whole. It’s the first drop of rain that turns into a flooded river of well trained guides in Nepal.”
Gurung’s training will increase what JA has to offer both local paddlers and international participants who join the team’s expeditions. “This support has a tremendous ripple effect,” Oakley said. “The effect of providing further education on any level is something that has an infinite flow, an effect that can not be truly measured. Dipesh’s personal beliefs are in kindness, in doing the right thing by others and he understood from the beginning the overall goal of supporting each other so everyone can succeed.”
Gurung will benefit greatly from two months of training in New Zealand, but he will not be in the country at the right time to take the exams and receive a NZOIA certification. Because of the visa challenges, it is unlikely that Dipesh will be able to return to New Zealand, so instead JA hopes to bring the assessments to Nepal, which would open them up not only to Gurung but to other local paddlers.
“Our hope is to raise enough money through our expeditions to bring trainers and assessors to Nepal in the future,” Oakley said.
According to NZOIA this is a possibility, and the ultimate goal is to create a self-support system in Nepal in which Gurung can use his New Zealand training to bring other paddlers up to the level that they are ready to succeed in the NZOIA assessments, Oakley said. The next goal is to support a team of five kayak instructors to complete their level 1 NZOIA kayak assessments in Nepal.
“Our limiting factor is not skill sets, it is affording the assessments,” Oakley said. “It is our expeditions that will make this possible, and although we would love to do this in 12 months, it may take us several years to raise these funds.”
For now, the first step of the process is underway, as Gurung’s prepares for the long awaited trip to New Zealand. “I feel like a huge door has opened that he will step through and make a great future for himself and many others around him,” Stewart said. “Getting Dipesh the world renowned training that he will ultimately take back and teach to others will really put Nepal on the map as a go-to location for great trips with excellent instruction and top notch safety. The JA experience will only get better and grow from that, allowing even more young paddlers to get the instruction they need.”
For more information about Join Adventures or to sign up for one of their expeditions, visit www.joinadventures.com.