The Village Experience 

A year and a half ago, Kelly Campbell led a group of 60 on a trip through Kenya. During her visit, she met 17-year-old twin girls living in the Child Discovery Center for orphans.

"They were brilliant and we had this interaction that was unbelievable," Campbell says.

Initially, the girls assumed she was just another college student tagging along with the rest of the group. After taking a look at her business card, they learned she was vice president of the non-profit group Ambassadors for Children. The astonished twins asked Campbell if they, too, could make it to such a high position someday.

"I said, 'Absolutely,' and I saw their eyes light up," Campbell says.

Since then, Campbell has been committed to getting the girls through school and has paid for two years of high school with one more year to go. She has already spoken to a couple of university chancellors in Kenya to form the relationships needed to help the twins into college when the time comes.

"If they keep up their end of the bargain and make good grades, they'll have an opportunity they never dreamed of," Campbell says.

Her support for the twins isn't over once they have completed school. In thinking long-term, Campbell explains she could possibly employ the girls and have them run an office in Kenya for her organization, The Village Experience. The twin girls are just two of the many women Campbell is working to promote.

"They get visitors who go through the orphanages but very rarely do they ever see those people again," Campbell remarks. "They're going to see me three or four times a year and that makes them feel like there's a real relationship."

From Kelly Campbell's travel journal

Malawi September 2006

I will always love this country because of one person: Janet Banda. The first time I saw her, I was immediately drawn to her. Those big brown eyes, that little frail body and the shyness of an angel. She is the reason I do what I do. She is reason I risk getting sick. She is the reason I will never make much money. She is the reason I don't sleep well at night. Everyone has something they live for and risk their lives for -- she is just that. She represents every child born into an unthinkable situation beyond any ounce of her own control. She smiles even though she is in pain. She lives despite the diseases in her body, and she celebrates because she knows no better. She is Janet Banda. And she is my inspiration.

Experiencing the village

Kelly Campbell and her sister, Anne, started The Village Experience in April 2008. The group is dedicated to uplifting village communities around the world by promoting self-sustainability.

"We're doing anything income generating," Campbell says.

This includes organizing trips, promoting impoverished communities through tourism and purchasing products produced in the villages to sell in the United States.

"When you meet these villages you can't get them out of your mind," Campbell says. "So, we had to come up with the means to help them."

The sisters work to teach women's groups skills, which will continually bring in revenue, as opposed to giving them a one-time donation, which only lasts a short time. They provide some capital and a trainer for the remote villages they work with and get them excited about crafting a product.

"We give them the money to buy the supplies upfront," Anne Campbell says. "Then we give them the money to pay for the labor, whatever they ask for."

Kelly Campbell adds, "If it's a quality product, we buy it from them."

At this point, their organization focuses mainly on women's groups because they have fewer job opportunities. Yet, they try to partner with what the country's most important needs are, which can vary from place to place.

"In Kenya and Uganda, HIV is a huge issue. We really focus on orphanages because there are so many orphans whose parents have passed away from HIV," Kelly Campbell explains. "In Ethiopia there's a big issue with women's rights and helping to uplift women and empower women. So, we work with a group there that's trying to get women off the streets. It's the same in Thailand with prostitution and sexual exploitation."

To begin this tourism season, they organized a trip to Kenya for several community leaders, such as Rotary Club and Peace Learning Center members, along with the IU Alumni Association's trip to Thailand.

Campbell says there are three elements incorporated in traveling with The Village Experience. The first is humanitarian work. Travelers volunteer with the charities the Campbell sisters are connected to.

The second part is cultural and artisan development. Those traveling with The Village Experience are introduced to the groups that are creating the products for the organization. "We work with the women," Kelly Campbell says. "We learn about their family life and you also get to purchase the product directly."

They plan activities for their travelers that are unique to the country's culture and only work with groups most in need of money. While in Thailand, travelers might take a Thai massage class, cooking class or share a meal with the locals.

"We want you to form relationships and when the trip is over, we want you to keep in contact with the charities we introduced you to or a family you had a meal with," Campbell says.

Additionally, a portion of the money used by those traveling with The Village Experience is given back to the community of whatever trip travelers are participating in. "We want to make sure you're seeing how your money is used while you're there."

The third element of these trips is tourism. "Tourism is the backbone of the economy in almost any part of the developing world," Campbell says.

In using guides to visit a Guatemalan coffee plantation or going on a camel safari in Jordan, The Village Experience is feeding money directly into those economies. The sisters work hard to utilize locally-owned and -operated businesses only.

"Places like Jamaica want to throw you into an all-inclusive [agency] ran by a Spanish company," Campbell says. "They don't care if you ever see the local restaurant across the street and that's not what we're all about."

From a Village Experience traveler

Last December I had the good fortune of getting to travel to Kenya with Kelly. Two days after we embarked, I found myself celebrating my 21st birthday with a group of people I had only just met. Here I am, sitting at The Carnivore, a restaurant catering to that exact demographic, when a drum circle of locals surrounded me with song and spirit. Kelly made sure that my "coming of age" experience was just that, but she could hardly know how true that would turn out to be. In the morning we woke to the infamous Kibaki vs. Odinga election. The following morning we woke to staggering death tolls in Eldoret, our destination for the day. Leading a faction of Western tourists, for lack of a better term, is no simple task with burning houses on the horizon and Swahili shouts looming down the streets of Nairobi. We had limited communication with loved ones and not a clue as to what could be in store for us. Kelly kept every bit of cool. She made improvisational amendments to our itinerary, but none in regards to our original intent of humanitarian effort. I am happy to report that even in the face of conflict, Kelly helped all of us achieve what we had set out to do: bring health and happiness to the less fortunate -- and find ourselves in the process. --Matt Steele, Indiana University art student

Village experiences don't come easy

Campbell visits hotels for days, seeking out accommodations that meet the standards her organization is looking for. This includes eco-lodges, guesthouses and places that employ workers from within the community.

Hotel arrangements aren't the only thing she has to sort through. The Campbell sisters worked for years going on trips and weeding out bad tours to create packages they are certain visitors will get the most out of. One of their bad experiences included an island tour in Nicaragua, which turned out to be a visit to one island where they spent three hours stranded by a pool with no water.

The sisters have narrowed it down to 10 destinations, including India, South Africa, Belize and Ethiopia.

"I think we've picked countries that are pretty unique," Kelly Campbell says. "They have a mysterious, adventuresome element to them."

Thankfully, water-less pools are not on their well-planned itineraries. But activities like zip lining and learning about indigenous cultures are. "I think the younger generation wants a different experience and I think we can give them that," Anne Campbell says.

Some trips are more developed than others. Kenya is an example of this because Indianapolis is already highly involved with charity work there. "We have so many community leaders in Indianapolis that are interested in Africa," according to Kelly Campbell.

The Guatemala trip is also highly evolved due to its close proximity, which makes it easier and more affordable. "It's definitely a great starter trip if this is your first trip," Anne Campbell says. "There's a lot to do and the markets are awesome."

They haven't limited themselves to their current 10 countries. Other destinations, such as Morocco, are kept on the backburner for the time being. Each place requires a lot of time to develop the proper connections and plan the trips. "By 2010, there might be a Uganda trip," Kelly Campbell says. "Maybe in 2011 something different. It will keep going."

At times, they pick a new destination because there is already a project in the works there. "We might find some amazing artisans first, and base a trip off of that," Kelly Campbell says.

Anne Campbell, then, sends questionnaires to the potential groups to enquire whether or not they utilize fair trade guidelines. Next, they travel to confirm the group's use of fair trade and won't work with them unless they do.

"It's a negotiation process," Kelly Campbell says. "Fair trade basically means they set the prices that they think are fair and livable."

The appeal of a particular country is also a factor. "There's a lot of interest in India," Anne Campbell says.

"Slumdog [Millionaire] might have been helping that out," Kelly Campbell adds with a laugh.

Letter from a organization

SITEAW, INC. appreciates the work The Village Experience is doing to help SITEAW women in Uganda by providing them with an opportunity to sell their baskets. Money from the basket sales helps the women to send their children to school and to meet the urgent needs of their families. The Village Experience has given a second chance to the women who thought the door was closed.

It is a dream come true as SITEAW, INC. encourages the women to rise above the oppressive traditions (one of which is female circumcision) that deform their lives. They are invited to take a step ahead every day to learn something or use their gifts to change and rebuild their lives.

The women are getting better and better at every skill they invest in and one of those is basketry. But without a market to sell the baskets they make, women can't benefit from their toil. Thank you to The Village Experience. --Sabina S. Santana (Sr.), director, SITEAW, INC.

From the fashion world to the developing world

Kelly Campbell graduated from Indiana University with an undergraduate degree in apparel merchandising and business. While living in New York, she worked in international public relations for fashion companies including Tommy Hilfiger and Anthropologie. "I quickly learned that I loved the international part, but fashion wasn't doing much for me anymore. I didn't feel that I was giving back."

She then moved to the University of Indianapolis to further her education and earned a master's in international relations. After spending a semester abroad studying at Stellenbosch University and doing volunteer work in South Africa, she began to fall in love with the non-profit world.

Campbell would return from her trips bearing bags of gifts for her sisters and others, assessing what they liked and didn't like. She said they loved the African beads and Indian silk scarves, but showed little interest in items such as masks and statues.

People began to take notice of the unique accessories on offer and would ask the sisters where they purchased the items. The jewelry's appeal grew even more once they learned women from around the world produced the products. Kelly Campbell started to realize she could turn this into a positive endeavor. "The wheels were turning in my head trying to figure out how to make this happen."

Anne Campbell had been working in the New York fashion industry, as well, for BCBG Max Azaria. She also moved back to Indy, where she began working for pharmaceutical companies. After gaining much experience in sales with both industries, she started to desire a more fulfilling career, as well.

After doing some research, the sisters teamed up and began The Village Experience. Kelly Campbell is in charge of the humanitarian trips and tourism. Her sister closely follows fashion and observes the groups they are working with to see who is already producing the latest trend.

Letter from a villager

Dear Kelly and Anne Campbell:

First and foremost, I would take this opportunity on behalf of the widows, the orphans and the church to say thanks for the kind of love and caring that you showed them during the visit. They were very happy because once again through you they could feel that they are loved and your visit has made them feel that they belong in the society and are not lesser beings. It was exceptionally good to see them smile as their faces light with joy.

I would also like to say that I was very much delighted for your visit, which was a blessing to these children and the widows in Mbita. You really worked hard to see that their needs were taken care of. May God bless you abundantly and may He also give you good health to keep on helping us through the hard situations that may lie ahead of us.


Jackton and Your Family from Mbita

Shopping in the Village

The Campbells have been selling their products at private events, such as fair trade festivals, open houses and green festivals. Indiana University and IUPUI have hosted The Village Experience at numerous events where sales were a huge success.

They have already been selling out of many items such as Guatemalan soaps and hand-poured candles, scarves from Bali and African beaded necklaces. "And that's when we got the confidence to say, there's a demand for this and people like the product," Anne Campbell says.

After a year of hard work, the sisters are finally able to open their own store to sell their worldwide products. The Village Experience will open its doors on April 4 on 61st and College in Broad Ripple.

The Campbells say they feel Broad Ripple is the perfect location for their store because the area is home to many locally-owned and -operated businesses. Customers will also be able to purchase products directly from their website with a new shopping cart feature beginning in April.

Attached to every product is a picture of the artisans the consumer's purchase is helping, along with the story of how the item was made. "We're becoming family with them, as well as telling their stories," Kelly Campbell says.

Following in the footsteps of the Indian women who recycle their old saris into clutches and journals, the Campbells plan to decorate their store with the colorful Indian fabrics.

"It's fashionable, it's bright, it's helping women," Anne Campbell says.

The Village Experience will be a retail area when customers first enter. The tourism and non-profit offices will be located in the back third of the space. "We want to keep it all together because, literally, when you promote one you're promoting all three," Kelly Campbell explains. "You're promoting the product, the tourism and the non-profit work."

A party has been planned for the store's opening night. The event is designed to encourage guests to stay awhile. It is a networking opportunity for those who have traveled and for those who wish to travel.

"We want people to come in and shop, learn about the trips, have fun and talk to each other," Kelly Campbell says.

The sisters also plan to use the store as space for non-profit groups to host events. These groups can organize a selling night where the store might donate 10 percent of their sales to the cause. Once The Village Experience becomes profitable, it will begin donating money to village co-operatives on a yearly basis. Those donations will aid in the generation of funds for new handicraft projects.

"It's kind of a big cycle," according to Kelly Campbell. "The more we make, the more that gets funneled into the non-profit."

Last year, they bought nearly $18,000 from the developing world in just four months. "That money is pumped into those countries and is helping those people," Anne Campbell says.

From Kelly's travel journal

Kenya December 2008

A little boy, known as Mushiri, at Saida Children's home broke my heart. When we walked in, he grabbed my hand and refused to let go the entire time we were there. He was dressed to the nines in his Sunday best suit and had the face of an angel. As he turned around, I could see that his head was full of scabies - and that his eye was infected. He was 4 years old and the cutest thing I'd ever seen. He danced, he played the drums, he jumped rope, and he played with the other children in such an embracing way. He kept saying something to me throughout the day, but of course I had no idea what he wanted. As we were leaving he was adamant that I answer him. I asked the administrator what he was saying. "Where are you from?" He had simply wanted to know where I was from this whole time. I said "America" and he repeated it with a huge smile and giggles as he hugged me good-bye. I'll never forget the amazing children I met on this journey to Kenya.

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