Kelly Jo Burnett '98
On September 25, 2017, Kelly Jo Burnett ’98 packed only her most essential belongings in a medium-sized backpack and flew, one-way, to Kathmandu, Nepal. Not six months earlier, she was celebrating her eleventh year as a teacher, coach and athletic director at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, Calif. Despite thoroughly enjoying her career and life on the picturesque West Coast, Burnett couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling that something was missing.
“Here I was, surrounded by these incredible views, working at an incredible institution and interacting with these incredible students, yet I knew I needed a change,” she said. “So, I started to do some research.”
Burnett, a former Peddie faculty member and coach prior to her role at Stevenson, began scouring the internet for information related to international volunteerism.
“I knew I wanted to incorporate myself into a culture and community completely different from my own. I wasn’t interested in ‘volunteer tourism’—I wanted to find a program that was grassroots, but that also had structure and support,” she said. “Thanks to Peddie, I gained the confidence and courage to do things like this outside of my comfort zone.”
And outside of her comfort zone she went. For the next several weeks, Burnett is living and working at Her Farm, a self-sustaining, organic farm that provides poor, landless and homeless women and their children a home and livelihood deep in the Himalayas. Farming, teaching, building and rebuilding infrastructure and, of course, learning about Nepali cooking and culture will be among her daily activities.
“Nepalese women find themselves without the same basic rights as men,” Burnett said. “It’s so easy to take for granted what we, as American women, have. I’m excited to be in the presence of women so different from myself with the hopes that we can impact each other.”
But Burnett’s adventure doesn’t stop there. After a quick swing through Singapore, she will be heading to Laos, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
“In Laos, I’ll be teaching English and working to educate and empower girls and women on female and reproductive health. Women in Laos also face many barriers, and I hope to use my skills as a biology teacher to help educate and positively impact them,” she said.
Of course, Burnett is not without some anxiety about the unknown aspects of the next five months.
“It’s scary to leave a great job and the security, paycheck, healthcare and retirement plan that goes with it. But to me, it’s also exciting. I felt a stirring in my soul, and I didn’t want to wake up one day and regret not doing something about it,” she said.
By January, Burnett will be in New Zealand for two months before beginning the next chapter of her life.
“Peddie has stayed with me,” Burnett said. “The faculty and coaches I had there wanted to see me succeed, and they still do. That doesn’t end when you leave Peddie.”
Follow along Burnett’s adventures on her blog, Kelly Jo Travels.