Kim Ellis-Durity hadn’t even heard about the earthquake in Katmandu when she received the text from her daughter, Kiah, last Saturday – the day the 18-year-old was to fly home from Nepal:
“Mom, dad, when you wake up, you’ll hear I’m in the middle of an earthquake. I’m fine, I just need to pee.”
The words brought comfort in a major sense, knowing Kiah was unharmed in the natural disaster that Ellis-Durity would soon learn had killed thousands. But they also turned her world into “complete mayhem.”
There would be no further word from Kiah for the next 16 hours.
“It just kaleidoscoped,” Ellis-Durity told Peace Arch News Wednesday.
“Not knowing where she was, where she was going, just on the phone 24/7 dealing with the agency here in Vancouver, in Australia…”
Nepal was hit with a 7.8-magnitude earthquake just before noon April 25, and the death toll – at more than 5,500 as of Thursday morning – continues to climb.
Ellis-Durity said her daughter – an Elgin Park Secondary grad – had just finished a month of volunteering in the country teaching English to nuns and monks when it struck.
“She was hours away from leaving.”
With only pieces of the puzzle, Ellis-Durity knows Kiah went as far back towards the monastery as she could by vehicle, then hiked the remaining distance on her own. Then, she spent two nights outside in the rain with the nuns and children as young as five before the gravity of the situation sunk in, as volunteers from other organizations were being evacuated from the area.
“That’s when she started to get scared,” Ellis-Durity said.
Fortunately, the co-ordinator of Kiah’s volunteer group was able to bring her back to town, and the teen was able to find a hotel to stay in and maintain “spotty” contact with her family.
Ellis-Durity said she could tell talking to her daughter that Kiah was going into shock; she was fixating on gifts for her sister and grandparents. Wednesday morning, waiting for a flight out, “(she’s) just wanting to get home.”
“She’s just holding it together,” Ellis-Durity said.
At the same time, Kiah has already told her mom she wants to organize a fundraising campaign when she gets back to help the relief effort. And, she plans to travel again.
“She’s been pretty amazing,” Ellis-Durity said. “I bet she’s the youngest Canadian who was over there by herself.
“She’s already said… ‘Yeah, I want to help.’”
Ellis-Durity is not surprised by her daughter’s tenacity. Kiah and older sister, Devon, were raised knowing they are fortunate to live where they do, and to have the advantages they’ve grown up with.
“It’s part of who we are,” Ellis-Durity said. “My mom had volunteered in Ethiopia in the mid-’80s, when the famine was going on. We’re just those type of people. We know we’re fortunate, but (that) we also live in a bubble here.
“I’ve always said to them, ‘you’re privileged, but don’t ever think you’re entitled.’ I never realized the weight… of those words. When something like this happens, it really connects with you.
“Kiah’s realized she gets to leave (Nepal), those people don’t.”
The trip to Nepal was Kiah’s first solo trip on an airplane. Her plane home was due to touch down in Vancouver at 11:15 a.m. Thursday (today).