Santa Rosa 16-year-old Ashlee Ruggels has found herself in some very foreign settings over the past two weeks, and she appears to be thriving amid the experience.
Ruggels, a Santa Rosa High School junior on spring break, has been in Kathmandu, Nepal, on a medical mission to help Nepali children and adults who suffer with disabilities linked to club feet.
Her mother, Calei Ruggels, a Santa Rosa trauma nurse, is part of a surgical team volunteering with the American charity Healing the Children, which organized the trip. The mother-daughter duo are the only members of the delegation from Sonoma County, though the trip marks a return for Calei Ruggels, who volunteered with a previous mission five years ago.
Ashlee’s role has been to work to with the medical team and comfort patients coming in for surgeries. Most are children and some are just babies. The adults seeking help are up to 60 years old.
Ashlee has also been volunteering at a Kathmandu youth center working with deaf children and using her sign language, which has been enriched with some Nepalese vocabulary in recent days.
An aspiring photojournalist who is set to take over as editor of her school’s yearbook, Ashlee has taken to documenting the trip on a blog that’s now filled with dispatches and pictures describing her recent days abroad.
“ I’ve never been so emotionally exhausted ... but my heart has never been so full,” she wrote last week after a moving encounter with Sarvana, a 17-year-old Nepalese girl whose surgery five years ago — during Calei’s first trip — turned around her life.
“I asked her what she wanted to do in her future,” Ashlee wrote, “and she answered, ‘I want to be a doctor like the ones who helped me. I know what it’s like to be a patient and I want to help now.’”
For a Sonoma County teen who admitted to having hardly stepped foot outside the country before this month, Ashlee’s reports show her taking the new adventures — and the role of foreign correspondent — perfectly in stride.