Lachlan Kelly says he's a "bit nervous" about his upcoming trip but is looking forward to a rewarding and fascinating experience.
On Sept. 4, the 23-year-old will leave Whistler — where he's lived since November — and travel to a relief camp outside of Mosul, Iraq.
Kelly, a trained nurse from Australia, will care for the camp's population, who have fled the war-torn city. He's scheduled to return after seven weeks, but he may stay longer.
In recent years, Mosul has been ground zero in the fight against ISIS, which took control of the city in June 2014. The famously brutal regime ruled with an iron fist and instituted Sharia law, causing hundreds of thousands to flee.
Just last month, Iraqi forces backed by the U.S. liberated the city.
"You can only imagine the health issues that come with that, not even mentioning the mental health issues associated with post-traumatic stress," said Kelly.
People need his help, he explained, and given the fact that he's unable to practice nursing here (he's currently in the process of getting his Australian credentials recognized) he feels drawn to do it.
"If I have the spare time, and I can afford to do it, then why not?" he said. "To be able to provide the skills and knowledge I've learned to people who are caught in the middle of something like that is an awesome thing."
Iraq is a famously dangerous country — particularly for westerners — and his decision has garnered mixed reaction from family and friends.
His friends think he's a "bit crazy," but deep down "they understand where I'm coming from," he said.
And while it's taken a lot of persuasion to get his dad "across the line," Kelly's mom intuitively understood why he wants to go.
"My mom was like, well, 'you've always wanted to do something like this. This is why you got into (nursing),'" he said.
Kelly will volunteer with Adventist Help, a Christian charity organization that operates relief efforts around the world. Last October, he volunteered with the organization in Greece, where he tended to Afghan refugees.
Kelly — a self-described atheist — said he was blown away by the organization.
"They had a team house I could live in free of charge. They could pay for food day to day and stuff. I felt safe the whole time. That's why I feel so confident going with them to Iraq," he said.
The organization, however, is not covering all his expenses: airfare and insurance are left to Kelly to pay. And to help him out, his employers (and the larger Whistler community) are kicking in.
Lift Coffee Company is redirecting its locals discount from its Nesters location and collecting donations up until Sept. 1, and on Tuesday, Aug. 22, HandleBar organized a fundraiser.
The $10 entry fee and proceeds from a raffle — which featured donated items and tickets from Lift, Superfly Ziplines, and Whistler Blackcomb — will go towards Kelly's trip.
Having worked with Kelly since November, Tyla Emde, a Lift manager who works with Kelly at the Nesters location, feels "bitter sweet" about his departure.
"I'm nervous for him, and I'm nervous about what's going on there. But I'm very proud of him," she said. "It takes a lot to give to a place that is in desperate need, and he's willing to do that. And that's why as a company and as a team, we rallied to help support him."
For Kelly, the trip is also about getting to know a new culture. Working with refugees in Greece opened his eyes to the Middle East, he said, and he would like to get to know it and its populations better. "Once you get there and meet people, (you realize) they're just like you and me," he explained.
Kelly's "end goal" is to work in Vancouver, where he can have easy access to Whistler. The community, he said, has blown him away.
"The support's been crazy. Coming in, you think 'it's a ski resort town.' But then you live here, and the sense of community is amazing."