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Peter Bauman and Laramie Boomerang: My San Antonio: University of Wyoming class aids orphans in Kenya

University of Wyoming class aids orphans in Kenya
by Peter Bauman and Laramie Boomerang

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Sometimes a story starts as two.

University of Wyoming Professor Tracey Patton‘s cross-cultural communication class participated in a DNA study as a means to link them, a self-described “bunch of white students,” with cross-cultural identity.

One year later, Patton’s students help survivors of Rwandan genocide, beginning a tradition of connecting students with real-world opportunities to help.

“The class was more successful than my wildest dreams. It was amazing, I was so proud of our class,” Patton said. “At the end of working with the Rwandan Genocide survivor group, they were pretty well-established, and I decided that I wanted to work with a group that wasn’t so established, that really needed our help.”

Her search for such a group would come to an end during a car ride with some communication graduate students.

At about the same time in Virginia, Margaret Kanyiri is studying theology and working to help support her husband and two daughters back home in Nakuru, Kenya.

A devout Christian, Kanyiri finds a community of support in Fairport Baptist Church in Virginia.

One day, her husband calls. He wants to know what they can do to help four children whose parents had recently died of HIV/AIDS.

With no help and no family, the children would likely end up living on the street.

“She said, ‘Let’s take them in,'” Pat Nuttal said. A member of Fairport Baptist, Nuttal said Kanyiri had long thought of starting an orphanage in Kenya, but not until much later.

“They just have always had a heart for children. Her husband actually was an orphan himself, and they had thought that years down the road after their own children were grown that they would try to start an orphanage,” Nuttal said. “But Margaret had no clue that when she came over here for this study that it was going to start taking place right away. I believe it was God’s hand at work.”

That was the mid-2000s. The beginnings of Kanyiri’s Shalom Garden Orphanage and Patton’s class working with real-world clients may have been completely disparate, but they converged during a car ride to a conference with communication graduate students, Patton told the Laramie Boomerang (

“A student at the time said, ‘You know Dr. Patton, there’s a woman named Margaret Kanyiri, and she just started this orphanage. She has no help, no salary, no overhead. She’s not on anyone’s radar,'” Patton said. “I chatted with Margaret, figured out she was a real person and that the orphanage was a legitimate organization because, sadly, that is a concern, and I learned that any money we could provide would directly help the children.”

Since first providing basic necessities such as bedding and blankets in 2007, Patton’s cross cultural communication classes have worked with Shalom Garden. Working with such an organization is crucial to providing students with firsthand experience communicating and interacting with other cultural groups.

“What better opportunity could there be than to work with real clients? We would put the concepts of cross-cultural communication into practice to see if some of these theories and concepts were still relevant in the 21st century, and what had changed, what was the new struggle,” Patton said.

It’s a learning process that has produced beneficial, tangible results, Nuttal said.

“It’s beautiful, the way (Patton) has done that, and I wish more universities would pick up on that,” she said. “When a university like the University of Wyoming does what Dr. Patton is doing, it reaches people around the world. It shows them it’s not just books, it’s real life.”

There’s been strife along the way. In 2007 and 2008, violence broke out in Kenya. Despite this, Kanyiri decided to go back to Kenya to do what she could for the orphans, who at one point were hidden under floorboards as the conflict moved from Nairobi to Nakuru.

“People in the states who had gotten to know Margaret suggested she try to bring her family here, to get them out of that unsafe environment. Her answer was, ‘But what about the orphans? They would be left yet one more time,'” Nuttal said.

Much of the work Patton’s students did the first year was undone by the conflict.

“(Kanyiri’s) farm at the orphanage was wiped out. Luckily, the orphans’ bedding survived, but I don’t know how,” Patton said.

But sometimes struggle produces an even greater than expected result. Recently, the Horn of Africa has been suffering under massive drought, making a fresh water supply — something the orphanage did not have — more important than ever. Patton said her students worked this past year to provide funds for Shalom Garden to purchase a water filtration system.

“We were working on that and then people here — it must be just that we know how precious water is in the West — there was just an outpouring where we had enough money to do a water filtration or combine our efforts with those in Virginia and purchase land,” Patton said.

Land would provide a permanent home for the orphanage, which is currently being operated out of a rental property.

“Right now, (Kanyiri) is working on having an orphanage built on the new land, so all the children can live in one dormitory,” Patton said. “They’re well on their way.”

This coming fall, Patton said her students will be working with clients in Botswana, with the help of a former cross cultural communication student who’s now serving in the Peace Corps.

“Even though we’re not actively working with the orphanage this fall semester, I will keep in touch with Margaret and Pat to see how the building goes, see what’s happening there and then figure out what else the students could help with. Orphanages are always going to be in need, but at this stage, it seems like Margaret is on more solid footing than she has been in the past. That’s very positive.”

Students have connected strongly with that philosophy of giving back. While charity can be found nearly everywhere, Patton said it’s something that comes easy to many in Wyoming.

“Every year, I’m just amazed and delighted at what the students get out of this,” she said. “I think Wyoming people know that because there can be such cold winters here and people live in really isolated populations that you really do need to look out for one another, and give back and just be there for people. UW students have really taken that to heart.”

Nuttal said Fairport Baptist and three other churches have sponsored many of the children, but that five of the 21 orphans are still in need. While there are those nearby also in need, Nuttal said any help that can be provided to others around the world can blossom into great things.

“You can reach out to somebody locally or around the world,” she said. “We never know with these 21 children, how they are going to be impacted and realize these are Americans reaching out because we love them. Some of these children may grow up to be powerful leaders in Kenya, or at the very least they may recognize that because of the gifts of others they were able to get off the streets and have a place to live, have a new family.”

“We never know the ramifications of what’s going to come out of that, but I would certainly think that when they grow up they too will want to give back to others,” Nuttal added.


Information from: Laramie Daily Boomerang – Laramie,


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