George Mason University
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George Mason University

Mason photography alumnus broadens his experience during a unique trip overseas

June 15, 2017

Kelly Shepherd on photography mission trip to Philippines

Kelly Shepherd (center, wearing cap) next to a member of Uplift Internationale, surrounded by local children in the Philippines. Photo: Joseph Gulizia Photography

Alumnus Kelly Shepherd knew early on that he enjoyed taking photos. As a child, a camera was always in hand. Eventually he made his way to the Mason School of Art to pursue photography. It was here, nearing graduation, that he realized, “hey, maybe I should pursue this as a career.” Everything fell into place when friends asked him to photograph weddings, events and family portraits.  

In 2012, Kelly received his BFA in Photography. He describes his experience at Mason’s School of Art as a great one. “I had many friends and lovely professors. Looking back, I get nostalgic for the great times I had. The work was intense at times but it forced me to be a better photographer and I do not regret a second of it,” says Kelly.

Post graduation, Kelly recounts his most rewarding experience – a mission trip to the Philippines. His love for photography and travel led his sister-in-law to approach him about the mission trip. She felt he would be an asset to the team. Kelly didn’t immediately accept the invitation; it took him a few years to embark on the journey. “It is a big commitment as well as a financial one. I was lucky enough to have raised all the funds per donations by family and friends,” replies Kelly.

According to Uplift Internationale’s website, their mission aims to give a life changing gift to children with facial deformities by mending faces… one child at a time. Every year Uplift conducts Operation Taghoy – an annual mission trip to the Philippines to provide reparative surgical care to poor, rural children born with facial deformities.

To be considered for the mission trip one must posses a combined set of skills and experiences. As this was Shepherd’s first trip overseas, he remained open minded with no expectations other than to be transformed in a positive way. Travelling to Manila with an unpretentious mindset, Kelly reflected on all for which he was thankful in life.

The next day would see the beginning of his awe-inspiring journey: a five-hour van ride south to a port followed by a three-hour ferry ride to the island of Marinduque. Here he spent seven days documenting over 35 surgeries with 200 people inside and outside of the hospital. Roadblocks posed a challenge to the team. The team, which included photographers, nurses, doctors and outreach personnel, overcame those challenges. Once surgeries were underway, the team worked proficiently under time restraints and Kelly had the opportunity to enter the Operating Room (OR) to document the surgeries firsthand.  

After a week of surgeries, post op processing and cleaning, the team concluded their trip with a visit to the governor’s private island. A white sandy beach surrounded a mind-blowing view. The team was rewarded with small boat tours around the island, snorkeling and drinks.

As Shepherd said goodbye, it was tough. An indescribable feeling of bittersweet memories as a weight was lifted. The hundreds of new best friends Kelly made along the way would remain on his mind as he traveled home. It was all over before he knew it. He had a feeling of guilt as he returned home so quickly. If only he could have helped them all. For this they would have to return to finish the work.  

No online publication, brochure or website presence can compare to all Kelly has achieved during his trip to the Philippines. Kelly notes, “the mission trip has been the most rewarding achievement so far … knowing that we were changing people’s lives for the better was the far more rewarding aspect for me; the opportunity to photograph all of it was a secondary reward.”

Moving forward, each year, Shepherd hopes to achieve/accomplish more than the last. He feels his best days are yet to come as he moves forward. “I am no where near done achieving. I believe my best times are ahead of me and that I’ll accomplish many things in my life.” Despite life complications in 2017, Kelly plans to return to the Philippines with Uplift in the years to come.

View photos from Kelly’s mission trip.

by Natasha Boddie, School of Art

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