A Journey of Discovery

Sunday, September 27, 2009
Joseph Muya and Kelly Campbell check out the Dunbar Covered Bridge with Putnam County Convention and Visitor Center director Carla Lawless. Muya is from Kenya, Africa and came to see a covered bridge after an invitation from Lawless.

When Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau staff members Carla Lawless and Sharon Eiteljorge attended a convention in Las Vegas, they expected to come back with some new ideas and maybe a contact or two.

What the two women discovered was a businessman from Kenya, Africa named Joseph Muya.

After spending several days talking during the convention, Muya told Lawless and Eiteljorge he was planning a visit to Indianapolis to connect with Kelly Campbell from the Village Experience. They invited him to come have lunch and visit a covered bridge when he got to the city.

They didn't really expect him to come.

"He called and said he wanted to see a covered bridge and had a friend bringing him to Greencastle and that he would be here by lunch," Lawless said with a laugh.

Muya owns a lodge in the heart of one of Kenya's most densely animal-populated wetland national parks called Ramsar Site. His Lake Nakuru Lodge is one of the finest in the world. It provides a view of hundreds of flamingos interspersed with giraffe, buffalo and zebra.

He regularly comes to the United States for trade shows and to visit his son, who goes to school in New Hampshire. He comes to Indianapolis to meet up with Campbell.

Muya and Campbell met at Muya's lodge when Campbell and her Ambassadors for Children team were on their way to deliver aid in an area north of Kenya when violence broke out. She and her team were welcomed and protected at the Nakuru Lodge for 10 days.

Campbell and Muya formed a bond that goes far beyond that of tour guide and inn keeper. They began a journey that crossed international lines.

Besides being a tour guide to third world and other developing countries, Campbell and her sister run a boutique in Broad Ripple called the Village Experience.

They feature handcrafted items like jewelry, scarves, rugs, pottery and other things made by village women in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Thailand, Guatemala, Jamaica and other places.

It is a socially pro-active business dedicated to uplifting impoverished communities through international trade and tourism. All proceeds from their shop support their mission.

Muya introduced Campbell to hundreds of villagers who now form cooperatives to make their crafts. Campbell purchases them at fair labor prices and sells them in her shop.

She and Muya also cooperate on providing trips designed to get the visitor off the beaten path and into the villages and farms of these developing countries. Their quest is to help these villages become self-sustaining with their handcrafts through micro-financing enterprises, small business development and vocational skills training.

"Kelly has done a wonderful job," Muya said. "She has empowered women in Kenya. Now they have a better life, their whole family has a better life."

No stranger to self-sustainability, Muya is also an environmentalist. His lodge is the only one located in the national park. His emphasis is on people. When refuges came to the area, Muya determined they would have clean water and houses.

"Joseph decided it was going to be a happy place," Campbell said. "This is where we connect. He told me of the need, and I put together a team to raise money to build houses, community centers and schools."

So far, 10 homes have been built and a $1,500 chicken coop project started.

In Kenya, an American dollar goes a long way. A family of four can be fed there for $1, and $10 supplies sanitary napkins for the women of the village.

Meeting Muya in Las Vegas, and then having the chance to show him their corner of the world allowed Lawless and Eteljorge great enjoyment.

"He is so interesting and well-spoken," said Eiteljorge. "He made us laugh the whole time we were in Vegas.

Muya's smile, his sparkling eyes and silvery voice are mesmerizing. His laughter comes quick and frequently. He is a man dedicated and devoted to his country and his people.

And, he is a facilitator. He looks at the needs of the people in his homeland and he connects the people with groups like Campbell's.

"You must come to Kenya," he said. "Come to my lodge. Everyone should see this. You can meet the women who make these things and see for yourself what Kenya is all about.

"On a safari in Kenya you have to see the people of Kenya and you see the problems of Kenya," he continued "It's not just a safari to see animals. It is a journey of discovery."

Lake Nakuru Lodge is in Nakuru, Kenya. You can access information about it at www.lakenakurulodge.com.

The Village Experience is located at 6055 N. College in Indianapolis. To find out more about their fair trade retail store and responsible tourism visit www.experiencethevillage.com or call (917) 892-9236.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: