A Woman Who is Changing the Way We Travel

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I first met Kelly Campbell at the 2011 Travel & Adventure Show in Atlanta where I was speaker. She & her sister, Anne, had a booth for The Village Cooperative selling fair trade jewelry & handicrafts. They also founded a travel company, The Village Experience, that organizes socially responsible tours all over the world. We became friends instantly sharing a mutual passion for travel and giving back.

Over the years, we have partnered on a Go Eat Give trip to Kenya, Destination Kenya in Atlanta, & more. I recently spent a few days at her home in Lamu, Kenya, where I got a deeper glimpse of her lifestyle. Here is an interview with this woman changing the world, one village at a time.

Hanging out by the pool at The Majlis Resort

What was your inspiration for founding The Village Experience? 

It is my opinion that Americans need to get out into the world more and experience the richness, diversity, and beauty of cultures outside of their own. This leads to better understanding, breaking down of barriers, tolerance to different religions, and so much more. Nothing brings me greater joy than watching my passengers experience something out of their comfort zone and thrive in the magic of it. I have many return passengers that have come to find travel as addicting and educational as I have.
What are 3 projects around the world you are most passionate about?

Safari Doctors – Lamu, Kenya. This organization operates medical clinics in twelve remote villages throughout the island archipelago that have little to no access to healthcare. I’ve been on many of the medical sails myself and have seen firsthand the obstacles these communities face on a daily basis just to care for their families. I knew the first time I sailed with Safari Doctors and met CNN Hero and founder, Umra Omar and her team, that we would be partnering on many projects together. Fast forward 3 years, and The Village Experience has helped to fund monthly medical sails and provide essential equipment such as satellite phones, vaccine refrigerators, solar panels, privacy tents, and medical examination cots. We’ve even built the first playground on Pate Island for the kids being served by the medical clinics.

Women’s Interlink Foundation – Kolkata, India. This organization works to root out human-trafficking, prostitution, and abuses against women by working on prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation back into the community. They run several rescue centers for vulnerable girls, red light district after school programs for children of working mothers, street children drop-in centers in the slums, vocational skills training programs, and a rural community based tourism program. I love their holistic approach to tackling injustices against women, and I’m constantly inspired by the hard work and dedication of Aloka Mitra and her entire team of strong women. The Village Experience has provided Women’s Interlink Foundation with dormitories and new playgrounds for the rescue centers, sewing machines for their tailoring program, administrative support for the entire street kids program, funding for their artisan development program, and we even built the entire Tribal Village Home Stay for their community based tourism program in Shantiniketan.

Vamos Adelante – Esquintla, Guatemala. This organization works in 24 rural villages along the slopes of Volcano Fuego. Most of the communities survive on seasonal work from the coffee plantations and sugar cane fields, and utilize the children in their families to help bring in extra income. Vamos Adelante works to educate the families on the importance of school, hygiene, nutrition, and healthcare. They provide medical clinics, distribute food to the elderly and malnourished, provide access to eco-stoves and clean water filters, build and improve schools, and work to empower the women in the villages. After traveling three hours up the side of the volcano, through multiple rivers and winding streets, the people I encountered captured my heart. There was no going back! The Village Experience has assisted Vamos Adelante in building new classrooms, renovated current schools, built a recreational center, started a women’s tailoring program, installed concrete floors/tin roofs/rain catchment systems for families in the program, and even provided a brand new cement mixer for the construction teams.

View from Kelly’s home in Lamu

You are on the road how many days a year? How do you balance personal and professional life? 

Most years, I am on the road approximately 270 out of 365 days of the year…either leading socially responsible tourism trips, scouting new destinations, fundraising, or working alongside our NGO partners. We are getting busier and busier, so it is getting harder to carve out personal time. What I find works best is to arrive to my work destinations early to rest and prepare for the passengers. Then, if time permits, I like to stay 3-5 days longer on my own to explore the destination at my own pace – sit at coffee shops and people watch, book hotels with beautiful views, scour the markets for artisan treasures, and try all the popular restaurants. I also made a commitment to myself to visit several new places each year to ensure I am continuing to see the world and growing in my knowledge. This year I will experience Greece for my 40th birthday – just my family and friends with me in private villas sitting back and watching the sun set over beautiful Santorini.

Now that I am an Aunt to twin 11 month old nephews, going back to the States or meeting them out in the world is becoming a huge priority. We already have a family reunion planned for January 2019 in Lamu, Kemya so that the family can have a true, relaxing vacation and the boys can begin their journey as world travelers.

What do you do for fun? 

The number one thing I do for fun is pack up my cooler with chilled white wine, fresh pasta salad, locally made bread, and imported chocolate and go sailing with my friends on Hippo Dhow or The Gypsy Catamaran. There is something so relaxing and therapeutic about being on the water, especially the Indian Ocean. We sail through the channels, anchor the boat on Manda Beach or one of the local sand bars, and then swim, walk the beach, and enjoy our cooler!
I also LOVE exploring markets around the world. The energy I feel the moment I step into a souk or mercado in a city like Marrakech, Antigua, Udaipur, Bali, or Cairo is such a high for me. I could meander through the alleyways for days on end, haggling for handmade items and sipping local coffee.
As a woman, what is your biggest challenge in your line of work? 
Being young women working in travel, fair trade, and philanthropy in the developing world means that my sister and myself often have to prove ourselves over and over again to people that are older than us and organizations they are more established than ours. They have no idea how far our reach is or how passionate we are about our work. The Village Experience is a woman owned organization with the ability to give a voice to women all over the world. That can be an intimidating idea for many men we encounter. Even so, we continue to focus on our mission of promoting socially responsible tourism through The Village Experience, providing a market for fair trade items through our Sora Nomad brand, and raising money to empower villages around the world through our partner NGO, The Village Cooperative.
Ream more about Kelly & Anne Campbell on their website

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 70+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and editor of 'Go Eat Give' and author of 'Beato Goes To' series of children's books on travel.