Cross Cultural Communication Class Helps Kenyan Children

November 20, 2008
Two students at merchandise table
Tony Parilla, left, of Denver, Colo., a University of Wyoming senior in communication, buys a T-shirt from communication senior Robert Crimmel of Evanston. Proceeds for the T-shirt sales will benefit the Shalom Garden Orphanage in Kenya. Students in UW's cross cultural communication course project will sell T-shirts in the Classroom Building through Monday, Dec. 1. (Alisa Somova Photo)

The health and well-being of many children in Kenya depends on the efforts of a University of Wyoming cross cultural communication class taught by Tracey Patton, professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism.

Due to a severe, widespread epidemic, close to two million Kenyans live with HIV, including nearly 200,000 children under age 14. As a result of the suffering and devastation, 1.3 million children under 17 are orphaned.

Patton's 25 students have studied Kenyan history, education and health issues to assess the impact of HIV, AIDS and subsequent economic and social dilemmas. Recognizing the need to assist more than a million children orphaned by the disease, the students have united with Shalom Garden Orphanage in Nakuru, Kenya, to help improve children's lives and future opportunities.

"Providing my students with the opportunity to work with real-world clients began slowly as I wanted to gauge student interest and my ability to find appropriate clients with whom to work," says Patton. "My students benefit because they get the opportunity to test out academic theories and concepts in the real world."

The students emphasize the importance of the capstone project that forces them to get involved in real social issues.

"This class is uniquely valuable in the set of communication studies courses at UW because it provides both theory -- the recorded knowledge of our discipline -- and an opportunity to apply this knowledge in real time. This is formal education meeting real-world application," says Mark VerBurg of Moorcroft, a senior in political science.

The class worked with its first real-world client in 2006, successfully helping Rwandan genocide survivors (children whose parents were killed in 1994).  Last year's class raised almost $9,000 to provide essential needs to the Shalom Garden Orphanage children.

"Through our direct involvement in 2007, my students and I saw the difference we were making, as did the greater UW and Laramie communities. While we are working toward sustainability, we chose to stay with this client for our 2008 project, as I thought it would be premature to pull out when there are so many great needs," says Patton.

This year's focus is on education, because it is the highest concern for the orphanage at all grade levels and pre-primary levels. The students have decided to raise money for tuition, school fees, uniforms and transportation.

"Initially, the goal was to build a pre-primary school for the orphanage, but after speaking with the director, Margaret Kanyiri, and knowing the dire situation regarding education, we thought it best to raise money for education immediately," says Patton.

The students' goal is to raise $10,000 to pay for tuition, uniforms, books, writing supplies and transportation for two years. There are 20 children between 3 to 8 years old, while the cost of education is $500 per year for pre-school (pre-primary) and $200 per year for primary students (K-12).

Fundraising events to support Shalom Garden Orphanage:

Now through Monday, Dec. 1 -- T-shirt sale in the Classroom Building. T-shirts cost $10. T-shirts will also be sold during the cross cultural communication course dance Monday, Dec. 1, and, if not sold out, Tuesday, Dec. 4 through Wednesday, Dec. 5 at the Holiday Bazaar in the Wyoming Union.

Monday, Dec. 1 -- The class will host a semi-formal/formal dance with silent auction from 6:30-11 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn and UW Conference Center. This event is open to everyone. The silent auction will begin at 6:30 p.m. through the evening, while the class presentation about the project will begin at 7:30 p.m.

To organize the events, the students in the class are divided into four different areas: advertising and sales, community liaison and outreach, grant writing and budget and public relations. The students acquire skills that can be applied in graduate school, internships and future careers.

"This class allows students to become involved globally in the world community, learn to interact internationally and most of all, make a difference in the lives of people," says Patton.

The students value an opportunity to help others while strengthening their connection with the university.

"We are building something from the ground up. Never before have I been such a significant part of something," says Janet Rose of Laramie, a junior in communication. She says that deans, professors, whole departments and various clubs all have offered support to the project.

"People have been willing to support us, without knowing us on a personal level. That shows the trust and rapport that Wyoming students, faculty and Laramie community members share," she says. "The university's support really gives the institution an identity more than that of a campus; the university has become more personal to me."

Other students also have felt a stronger bond with the university and the community coming together to help children half a world away.

"This class reinforces the need for social activism by all people -- members of the university, the community and me," says Zachary Peters of Buffalo, a senior in zoology and physiology.

"This class is important to the university because programs like ours are the proof that this institution lives up to its rigorous goal of bettering the state and community," says VerBurg.

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