A chance find of an old newspaper in Motueka brought back strong memories for Nelson VSAers Diane and John McKinnon, and Sandy Stephens.

A sister-in-law of VSA chief executive, Steve Goodman, was cleaning out an elderly neighbour’s garage when she came across a 1999 Nelson Mail which had a two-page spread on VSA. The feature told of John and Diane’s VSA history which had begun in Nepal in the 1960s, and Sandy's volunteering in Fiji in the sixties. It also told the story of Nelson local Andrew Thompson meeting Irish backpacker Mary McHale while on assignment in Bhutan.

Diane and John McKinnon Nepal

Diane and John McKinnon have been regular visitors to Nepal since their first assignment there 50 years ago. They are pictured here in 2016 with old friends Pooli and Nawang Lobsang. Pooli was their neighbour when they lived at Kunde Hospital in the sixties.

Nineteen years on, several are still closely involved with VSA. Diane, a VSA life member, is on the board of the Himalayan Trust which was set up by Sir Edmund Hillary. She and John remain regular visitors to Nepal and nearby regions. “I’ve absolutely kept up with the Sherpa people,” Diane says. In 2016, her family - two children, partners and grandchildren – went with other VSAers to Nepal for the 50th anniversary of a hospital that Sir Ed had set up. At the end of a long trek into Kunde, they were entertained at a ceremony and dinner put on by locals.

Nelson Mail VSA profiles 1999 Sandy

Sandy Stephens today is secretary of Nelson's VSA branch

Diane and John also run Footprints Tours, taking small groups to Nepal, Tibet, southern China, the Silk Road and other parts of Asia.

Sandy’s Fiji assignment marked the start of a long career in development. Immediately after VSA, MFAT employed her for four years on their Colombo Plan aid programme in Malaysia. The UN then became a major part of her career as she spent over 25 years with FAO and another five with UNDP. On retiring from FAO and returning to New Zealand, Sandy became a MFAT consultant.

Today she is secretary of VSA’s Nelson branch. “We’ve just had a dinner to let a newly selected volunteer for Vanuatu meet five of us who have already worked there,” she says. “These are always great meetings of minds and memories.”

Here’s the Nelson Mail original. Incidentally, it noted that a relatively high proportion of VSA people either came from Nelson or lived there – a statistic that quite likely hasn’t changed.