Once you've been to Nepal—once you've breathed in the cool mountain air and caught a glimpse of the highest peak in the world and sipped a cup of milk tea with a local—you are forever changed. You no longer wonder where it sits on that spinning globe. It is forever sealed on your heart, and you cannot forget what your heart and mind soaked in while you were there.

Twelve years ago, I had this experience. For four months I lived in Kathmandu as I volunteered with an organization that works in some of the poorest areas of the world. Along with my two roommates, we lived life as close as we could to the Nepalis. We walked to town daily, played with kids in the streets, and arrived back to our apartment at the end of the day, feet covered in dust and hearts full from the day's activities and experiences.  Eventually, I became very good friends with a Nepali family. They were a lovely couple with five small children that captured my heart and forever sealed my love for this country. I was at their house almost daily, where I would sometimes help tutor one of their daughters. But more often than not, I simply would sit for hours on end, talking with the husband about life and love and faith. His wife and I became like sisters. She spoke no English, and yet somehow our hearts grew close to one another, and we understood our connection without even having to speak. Many days I would sit and eat dinner with them, drink several milk teas, and sit contently as the wife braided my hair. I was in love with this family that gave love and life freely without expecting anything in return. 

If you visit Nepal, you will see things that will challenge your heart and thinking in ways you cannot imagine. You will see poverty at a degree that is most likely greater than anything you have witnessed before. You will see mother and child sleeping in the street because they have no home. You will see piles of trash sitting right next to fruit and vegetable stands because trash receptacles are few and far between. You will see starving stray dogs fighting each other for scraps of meat, and you will see children begging for food. Most or all of these things will cause your heart to hurt, and you will ache to give a home and a meal to every child, mother and animal that you see. These are painful things, but they are not what define Nepal.  

Instead, Nepal is defined by its beauty and the warmth of its people, and that is the impression with which you'll likely walk away when you leave this special place. 

On April 25th, 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rattled the very bones of Nepal. The rest of the world took notice, as the number of lives lost rose day by day. Over 8,800 people lost their lives, and thousands more were injured and left without homes. Nepal was no longer a question mark on a map.  

I ache for my brothers and sisters in Nepal, but my Nepali family has reminded me that their people are resilient, and they will rise out of the rubble that has been left in the wake of this natural disaster. They say that they are praying for hope and joy to be found in the midst of great tragedy and great fear. And little by little, over the past several months, Nepal has been finding its footing again. There is a long road of healing and restoration ahead, but the strength and warmth that so well defines the Nepali spirit is paving the way. This country will rise again, and perhaps, if you are brave enough and have a sense of adventure, you will find your way to its borders and see for yourself the wonder and beauty of Nepal.

(photos and writing previously published in Magnolia Rouge)

Nina Mullins is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Kentucky. She and her husband, Wes, along with their 5 year old twins, travel the world looking for new adventures. Together, the four of them have travelled to places like Nepal, Ethiopia, Mexico, Norway, and the UK. Nina has a desire to see small business owners use their success to make a positive impact on the world around them. Nina & Wes both lead a photography workshop, called the Beyond Workshop, which seeks to help photographers grow their businesses, so they can, in turn, give back to a world in need.