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Debby Ryan of Disney's "Jessie" becomes Friends for Change ambassador, travels to India to help build school

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Debby Ryan of Disney's "Jessie" becomes Friends for Change ambassador, travels to India to help build school

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It's been a rotten couple of days, news-wise, hasn't it? The shootings in Colorado. The Penn State Scandal. And now the untimely passing of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. So it'd be perfectly understandable if you just wanted to unplug your flat screen and keep it turned to the wall for a while. With the hope that this would then prevent you from hearing any more bad news.

But the downside of doing like that is that this is that it would also then prevent you from hearing any good news. Like -- for example -- what Debby Ryan just did in India.

Debby Ryan and her "Jessie" co-star Peyton List. Photo by Adam
Taylor. Copyright Disney Channel. All rights reserved

Now you probably know Ms. Ryan from her hit Disney Channel sitcom, "Jessie." But what you may not know about this 19 year-old is that she is passionate about helping others. Which is why -- last year -- Debby approached Mouse House management  about possibly making some changes to their highly successful "Disney Friends for Change" program.

"Up until just recently, Disney Friends for Change had been all bout encouraging kids and their families to tackle environmental challenges in their local communities. Which is terrific and all. But I was thinking that it was time that we bumped out the borders of this program a bit,  maybe turn it into more of a people-helping-people thing," Ms. Ryan explained in a recent phone interview.

And this desire to help people ... It's kind of hard-wired into Debby. Which is why -- even back when she was appearing on "The Suite Life on Deck" -- all on her own, when the cameras were off and nobody else was watching, Ms. Ryan would then donate clothes or visit with sick kids at the hospital.

The cast of Disney's "The Suite Life on Deck": Dylan Sprouse, Brenda Song, Phill
Lweis, Cole Sprouse and Debby Ryan. Copyright Disney Channel.
All rights reserved

"But now that I've got my own show on the Disney Channel ... Well, during this brief time that I've got in the spotlight, I feel that the most responsible thing I can do is lead by example. Which is why I went to Disney Channel management and asked them if we could perhaps change 'Friends for Change' into more of a hands-on thing. So that we the performers could actually get out there in the world and show Disney Channel viewers what they could be doing in their local communities by tackling real projects, taking on real challenges," Ms. Ryan continued.

Well, the executives back in Burbank just loved Debby's idea. So much so that the Company announced its Disney Friends for Change Ambassador program. Which is where performers like Ms. Ryan, Bella Thorne & Zendaya from "Shake It Up" and Ross Lynch & Laura Marano of "Austin & Ally" will be shining a spotlight on worthwhile efforts & organizations like Free The Children and TreePeople by actually getting their hands dirty.

And in Debby's case, this meant traveling halfway around the globe to India to just outside the busy city of Udaipar. So that she could then help Free The Children add two new classrooms to the school that they've built in Lai Gow Village.

Debby Ryan laying bricks as part of the Lai Gow School expansion project.
Copyright Disney Channel. All rights reserved

"That trip was such an eye-opener. I mean, I am used to having people look at me whenever I go to the mall because I'm on television. But over there, I'd be wandering the streets with my Mom and friend while we were out shopping, and people would stare at us. I imagine because our style looked different," Ms. Ryan said.

But on the other hand, when Debby arrived in Udairpar and actually began interacting with the locals, she quickly learned how alike we all are.

"I don't care what part of the planet that you're from. Little kids from around the globe like to be picked up and spun. And as soon as I did this for a few little girls in India, I suddenly had this huge crowd around me. Each of them wanting to be picked up by the big American girl and spun around. Which is probably why -- a lot of the time that I spent in Udaipar -- I felt dizzy," Ms. Ryan laughed.

Girls carrying water home after using the Lai Gow School hand pump.
Copyright Disney Channel. All rights reserved

But these fun moments aside, Debby was continually struck by how hard life was for the girls who attending the Lai Gow School.

"I mean, I work long hours on my TV show. But these girls ... They typically get up before dawn so that they can then walk for a mile in the dark to fetch water so that their mothers can then prepare the morning meal. And that's all before they head off to school for the day," Ms. Ryan marveled.

That's actually why Free the Children had a hand pump installed at Lai Gow School.  They found that having a source for clean, safe drinking water on campus would then make it that much more likely that parents would allow their children to attend this school. Which is one of the main reasons -- over the past five years -- Lai Gow School has gone from having just 9 students to over 170.

Debby Ryan takes part in an art class at the Lai Gow School. Copyright Disney
Channel. All rights reserved

"We  -- as Americans -- typically take things like public school and clean, safe drinking water for granted. Whereas in Lai Gow Village, it took hundreds of volunteers and thousands of hours of work to actually make that happen. Which is why I'm thrilled that -- in my role as a Disney Friends for Change ambassador -- I can help shine a spotlight on worthwhile organizations like Free the Children. Make more people aware of their efforts in India," Debby said.

And now that she's been exposed to the beauty of India and the many challenges that its people face, does Ms. Ryan see herself returning to this country anytime soon?

"I can't wait to go back," Debby enthused. "India is really on my heart now. Plus I'd love to see the girls at the Lai Gow School again."

If you'd like to learn a bit more about Ms. Ryan's recent adventure in India, please check out the above video. Or -- better yet -- to learn more about all of the worthwhile efforts & organizations that The Walt Disney Company is now partnering with, please drop by the Disney Friends for Change website. Where you'll then see how good a little bit of good news can make you feel.

PS: There's an all-new episode of "Jessie" premiering on the Disney Channel this Friday night at 8:30 p.m. / 7:30 p.m. Central which features the return of Creepy Connie (Sierra McCormick of "A.N.T. Farm" fame) . If you find yourself still in need of a laugh by the time this weekend rolls around, be sure and check this particular "Jessie" episode out.

Creepy Connie returns in this week's
episode of Disney's "Jessie."
Copyright Disney Channel.
All rights reserved

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