A Woman Who is Changing the Way We Travel

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

Women of Vision Come to Atlanta

Ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world, taking photographs, working for National Geographic? What sounds like the best job in the world, is actually one of the most difficult ones personally and professionally.

I recently attended an exhibition on Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment at Fernbank Museum of Natural History (on display September 26, 2015- January 3, 2016), where the influential photography of 11 award-winning female photojournalists is on display. Sponsored nationally by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., Women of Vision was curated by National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Krist, who had the challenging task of choosing a selection of images to best represent the broad portfolios of the 11 extraordinary photographers.

women-of-vision-national-geographic-photographers-on-assignment-2-638Next to the photographs is a background story on what social issue the photographer witness or what her feelings were. There is also a video podcast about the female photographers where they talk about what it’s like to be a traveling photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

Some of the things these acclaimed women talk about is having courage to go to places most people wouldn’t think of going to. National Geographic Photographers don’t just cover tourist attractions; they go to warn torn, disaster sites, and are often in the middle of conflict. Safety is an issue. They could be out on the field stuck in the middle of a dessert with little water or in the jungle waiting for leopards to emerge for weeks at a time.

There is the pressure of finding the right photograph that tells a story. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is not a catch-parse in this line of profession. While there is a details story to go along with most photographs, these women are out there to capture a moment in history with a photographer. Sure it’s wonderful if they get recognized as a National Geographic photographer of the year, but most National Geographic photographers do what they do because they are passionate about it.

Women of Vision features nearly 100 photographs, including moving depictions of far- flung cultures, compelling illustrations of conceptual topics such as memory and teenage brain chemistry, and arresting images of social issues like child marriage and 21st-century slavery. In addition to the photographs, visitors have an opportunity to learn how National Geographic magazine picture editors work closely with the photographers to select images and tell a story.

“For the last decade, some of our most powerful stories have been produced by a new generation of photojournalists who are women. These women are as different as the places and the subjects they have covered, but they all share the same passion and commitment to storytelling that has come to define National Geographic,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions. “The exhibition reaffirms the Society’s position as a respected leader in the field of photography.”

“This provocative exhibition will take our visitors on an eye-opening journey that highlights a range of subject matter and natural history themes,” said Dr. Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank’s Vice President of Education, Collections and Research. “Through their compelling images and stories, Fernbank’s visitors will gain a better understanding and appreciation of our world and its many inhabitants.”

Women of Vision underscores National Geographic’s history of documenting the world through photography and its ongoing commitment to supporting photographers as important and innovative storytellers who can make a difference with their work.

Go Eat Give is giving away 4 tickets to see Women of Vision and Queen of Sheba exhibits at the  Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Leave a comment below and enter to win. Drawing will take place on Monday, Nov 23, 2015 and notified by email. 

Scenes from the Women’s Shelter in Chandigarh

Chandigarh remains a vivid memory of mine especially our visit to a women’s shelter.  A few pictures cannot adequately describe the emotional reaction to seeing and hearing of the plight of these women (plus two little girls living there with their mother). To give you a sense, I chose these four pictures and will tell you a little about each one. savera women's shelter in chandigarhThe women introduced themselves to us (as we did to them). The lady in blue and pick appeared to be very shy and quiet, perhaps even in shock, and yet she did make it through the introduction.
go eat give india
 The two little girls were doing what children do all over the world — vying for a turn at an object.  Imagine what a novelty the camera was to them.  Compare it to the very young photographers we see every day in the United States, who completely take the camera/cell phones for granted. The teenager in the picture with the little girls had yet another sad story.  She is 16 years old and has neither a mother nor a father. In other words, she is on her own in life. How wonderful that she is in the safe arms of the shelter.
savera chandigarh
In the lower left picture, look more closely at the little girl’s right hand.  How has that hand become so distorted and lost its pigmentation?  I’ll let you think about that.
elizebeth volunteering at savers india
The last lady, pictured with me, was longing for human contact and warmth.  She put her arms around several of us and just held on – not saying a word – looking up at us with those soulful eyes.
These images and narrative provide a good sampling of our Go Eat Give visit to the women’s shelter in Chandigarh in November 2014.
Although the shelter’s matron (she called herself the “warden”) referred to the women at the shelter as “inmates,” I came away from our visit feeling cheered that this small group of women and children have found a refuge and safe harbor where they live in modest, close quarters, receive assistance in resolving their (mostly) domestic situations, and show a fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend.
Click here to make a donation for Savera women’s shelter in India.
~ By guest blogger, Elizabeth Etoll, a retired IBM executive who lives in Atlanta, GA. She visited Cuba and India with Go Eat Give in 2014. 

Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

Significance of Karwa Chauth

Karwa Chauth is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in northern and western India. The day is especially auspicious for married women, who mark the event by fasting from sunrise to moonrise in order to pray for the well-being, prosperity and longevity of their husbands.

There are many stories in epic tales such as Mahabharat, story of Satyavan and Savitiri, Karwa and the queen Veervati, that tell how the festival originated and how it came to be celebrated only in certain part of Indian subcontinent. One theory is that Karva Chauth started as a festival to celebrate a special bond of friendship between the brides and their good-friends at their new in-law homes. A few days before the festival, married women would buy new karvas (spherical clay pots) and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside they would put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items, and small clothes as gifts for their girlfriends. The women would then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth and exchange these gift pots.

Another theory suggests, that since Karwa Chauth follows soon after the summer (Kharif) crop harvest in rural areas, it is a good time for community festivals and gift exchanges. The festival coincides with the time for sowing wheat crops. Karwas are big earthen pots in which wheat is stored so fasting by the woman may have originally started as a prayer for a good harvest in this predominantly wheat-eating region.

The fast begins at dawn. The women wake up early in the morning to eat fruits, sweets, bread and potatoes. After this, fasting women do not eat during the day, and some don’t drink any water either. Women receive gifts from their mothers and mother in laws. They dress up in fine traditional clothing, sometimes in their wedding attire. Wearing red, gold or orange sari or salwaar kameez signifies a bride. The women adorn their hands with mehndi (aka henna), their best jewlery, and spend the day socializing with friends and relatives.

Photo courtesy Tribune India
Photo courtesy Tribune India

In the evening, all the women from the household, and sometimes the neighborhood, get together for a prayer (puja), while the eldest woman tells stories about wives who were able to change the destiny of their husbands through great devotion and fasting. Thalis (plates) decorated with offerings such as candles, flowers, sweets, sindoor (red color powder) are passed around and the women bless each other.

Here’s a song that is hummed while passing the thali:

“Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
A Katti Na Ateri Naa,
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Naa,
Gwand Pair payeen Naa,
Sui Che Dhaga Payeen Naa
Ruthda maniyen Naa,
Suthra Jagayeen Naa,
Bhain Pyari Veeran,
Chan Chade Te Pani Peena
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara”

“Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
Aye Katti Naya Teri Nee,
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Bhee,
Aar Pair payeen Bhee,
Ruthda maniyen Bhee,
Suthra Jagayeen Bhee,
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara

At sunset, the husbands join their wives to complete the final ritual of the day. They gather outdoors awaiting the moon to make itself visible in the sky. When the moon rises, the women look at it through a fine-mesh sieve, and then look at their husbands  reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta (stole). The women offer the water to the moon asking for blessing and her husband’s long life. Finally, the husband gives his wife her first sip of water and feeds her sweets to break her fast.

Photo courtesy BCCL
Photo courtesy BCCL

Karwa Chauth is still practiced by Hindu women all over the world.

Photo courtesy iloveindia.com
Photo courtesy iloveindia.com

~ By guest blogger Shweta Sharma. 

Bringing every woman back into the workforce

Yesterday, our Community Consulting Team presented it’s final deliverable to local non profit client, Every Woman Works. We had started the project earlier this year. Three volunteers, five months and a lot of hard work later, we were able to give Ms. Tillie, her board and her staff some concrete recommendations to take Every Woman Works to it’s next level.

Running a small organization in the suburbs of Roswell, GA with limited resources is not easy. The staff here has a strong passion for what they are doing i.e. helping other women (who have been in prison, drugs, or adversities) get back on their own feet. They provide an intensive curriculum that focuses on self empowerment, responsibility, dressing for success, interviewing and basic job skills. Most of the women are placed in a job even before they graduate. Needless to say, they are helping change people’s lives, so our consultation is very valuable to them.

The marketing project that our team focused on advised Every Woman Works to improve three broad areas – their web site, database and corporate sponsorships. We created a step-by-step plan that analyzed their current state, needs and an optimal future state as well as how to get there. In the next few months, you will see them re-haul their web site that is more donor-friendly and informative. It will have videos and testimonials. Their database is already under construction and it would be easier for them to stay in touch with their donors, volunteers and graduates. You can even start getting email newsletters from them soon.

Founder, Ms. Tillie and board chair, Michael Sinclair were very impressed with our work. They asked us to continue providing consultation to them throughout the year. We are very excited for the future of Every Woman Works and would be happy to provide ongoing support as needed.

If you are reading this and thinking “I want to help,” here are some ideas for you.

Every Woman Works is looking for a larger location so that they can offer their classes to more women. They have the demand but are constraint due to their physical limited capacity. If you know someone (such as a church, community center, real estate builder, etc.) who has empty space to offer, please contact Every Woman Works.

Make a monetary donation. It’s tax deductible. Also, if your employer has a partnership with United Way, you can chose Every Woman Works as your charity.

Have your company become a corporate sponsor. They are in dire need of large sponsorships from corporations. Donations ranging from cash, supplys to equipment can be very useful to them.

Get involved with their activities and events. If you are in the Atlanta area, make sure you attend their fundrasiers such as the Bee Ball, the Bee Extravaganza and other fun programs. For more information, contact them directly.

Helping victims of domestic violence

This past weekend, I was invited to speak to a group of women at Raksha about transitioning into the workforce. Raksha (meaning protection) is a nonprofit based in Atlanta that focuses on helping men and women who have been victims of domestic abuse. The South Asian community tends to be very silent about such issues; therefore assistance from family and friends is hard to come by.  Partners continue to be in abusive relationships fearing the societal taboos.

Typically, there are no distinct characteristic that describe a typical victim. They can be of any age, education, career or family. Domestic violence does not see a person’s background before attacking. Perhaps what can prevent it from continuing is a strong, determined, self sufficient individual. Even educated, working women can sometimes continue to be abused due to self esteem issues. If not addressed on time, it can lead to detrimental consequences.

I had mentioned this organization in my latest article in Khabar and attended some of their fundraising events, but didn’t get the opportunity to talk to their staff and victims in detail until now. The support group meets regularly at the Raksha office, which is a safe haven for them. They are given clothes, toys and food, whatever they need.  The staff organizes craft and play activities for the kids. Even lunch is provided during their meetings. The case workers at Raksha get involved with each of their clients personally by assisting them with everything ranging from self empowerment, educational programs, career advice, legal referrals and counseling.  They work with up to 30 clients at any given time.

As a result, the victims are able to overcome obstacles and empower themselves.  They go back to school, enter the job force, provide for their families and are able to take care of themselves. A lot of these individuals don’t have another place to turn to during their hardships, and Raksha is their only chance.

Due to confidentiality issues, I can’t disclose the women’s stories. But I can tell you this much – they all have a strong willingness to live and to strive. They want to put the past behind and dream of a better future. They wish to enjoy their families and friends, and be all they can be in this world. Even if they are broken once they first come in, they eventually find that living force within themselves with the help of the staff, volunteers and support group members.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, I urge you to help this organization in reaching out to more people. You can volunteer your time at events, support groups, mentoring, etc. or donate money, clothes or food. Please contact (404) 876-0670 for more information.

Consulting to Every Woman Works

Some Background – I am currently volunteering with an organization called Community Consulting Teams (CCT), based in Atlanta. Each year, local non profits apply to CCT asking for pro bono consultants to help them with short term projects. My client this year is Every Woman Works (EWW), a non profit learning center based in Roswell, GA.

Today, I went to visit the EWW office and meet their staff members. What an energetic group of women they were! Miss Tillie, who comes from a corporate training background, started this organization to help destitute women (such as those who are homeless, have been abused or are coming out of prison) to help them get back in the workforce. She has created a wonderful 4-weeks long program where the women get to learn about everything from customer service, work ethics, corporate etiquettes, to self empowerment and most of all, having hope.

Like a lot of small non profits that are struggling right now, EWW also has its own challenges. They have a very small budget, but high aspirations of helping others. Their staff is limited. They are crammed into a tiny facility. It sure doesn’t help when you have one bathroom and 20 female students!

My team through CCT is working on creating much deserved brand awareness for EWW which will allow them to have a further reach in the community. They are doing some wonderful work here, changing people’s lives, but very few people know about it. We will create a marketing plan focusing on their donors, sponsors, partners, and media. My hope is they will be able to use this to secure more funding, get tie ups with corporate sponsor, expand their physical location and be able to serve more needy women.

Graduation is tomorrow. Most women are found a job by the time they graduate, so that they can start providing for their families and take care of themselves.

Very excited to be working on this project!