Travel with a purpose 

Ambassadors for Children puts Indy on the map

“My most memorable trips were the times I was able to interact with local people,” says Dr. Sally Brown, the founder and president of Ambassadors for Children, the local not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing people with global travel opportunities to help children in need. “I thought, if this meant so much to me, why don’t we try it?”

Brown, who started as a flight attendant with ATA airlines in 1975, had this epiphany in 1998. Ten years later, Ambassadors for Children has provided over 3,000 trips to countries in Asia, Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe, offering travelers cultural immersion and exchange — and the chance to help children by volunteering in support of sustainable projects, from helping to build a new library at an orphanage near Rishikesh in India to developing after-school programs in Eldoret, Kenya.

What Brown realized was that people were ready for a new kind of vacation. “People want cultural immersion,” she says, “something more than they’re getting sitting on a beach or on a bus. They also wanted the camaraderie of the group, especially after Sept. 11, they wanted to give back.”

Ambassadors for Children works in partnership with NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in the various places where it offers trips. Ambassadors also sets up chapters in this country, including groups at Butler and Purdue universities, for the purpose of raising money, 100 percent of which is donated to the partners overseas. For example, one chapter has dedicated itself to raising $35,000 to build a school in a village in Uganda. Vacationers will then be able to book trips through Ambassadors in order to help with the school’s construction and related programs.

“We have a wonderful model that is a quality mission/adventure-type program,” Brown says. During their two weeks in Uganda, travelers were also able to take a river-rafting trip down the Nile. “We make the most of the destination.”

Ambassadors works with experienced trip leaders, many of whom are college professors. A trip will typically consist of about 20 travelers and might last for one or two weeks. Destinations and missions are also classified in terms of what Brown calls “an intensity of scale.” Ambassadors works with a wide variety of age groups — sometimes entire families decide to sign on — and, lately, they’ve begun booking trips for high schoolers and college students interested in alternative spring breaks.

Ambassadors for Children’s first goal is to better the lives of children in impoverished communities around the world. But the program also offers volunteer travelers the opportunity for a life-changing experience. “It’s great to help the kids on the other end,” Brown says. “But it’s also wonderful to see volunteers truly get it. Our volunteers come back and start chapters, or just start volunteering locally.”

In the past year, the Ambassadors project has received press attention in TIME and Family Circle magazines. Chase Bank and Kroger have both made financial contributions in support of chapter development. Meanwhile, Brown continues to find ways to expand Ambassadors’ reach. She and her staff are developing partnerships that will lead to destinations in Ethiopia and Cambodia in 2009.

Brown says peace is her ultimate goal. “I know it’s short-term, but I also know this cultural exchange makes a difference.”

To learn more about Ambassadors for Children, go to

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