Local family adopts orphanage in Kenya

May 31, 2012

By Amanda Austin

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At age 19, Kyle Legman had saved up enough money to embark upon a solo journey to Africa. A born-and-bred Pacific Northwest native, the young man paid his own way to go on an internship program volunteering at an orphanage located in Nakuru, Kenya, in 2004.

Kyle, who now lives in St. Louis, Mo., had wanted to go to Africa for as long as he could remember, he said, and he liked the idea of working in an underdeveloped country because of its “anything-goes” atmosphere.

“Kenya just seemed like the best place because they have the most diverse wildlife, the ocean, and it was close to Uganda and Rwanda,” he said.

Photo by Marsha Donaldson. Dana Sullivan talks with children on his recent trip to Kenya.

He worked in an orphanage called Pistis, directed by a man named Leonard Muyelele. Thanks to the Internet, Muyelele and Kyle kept in touch, according to Kyle’s mom Vicki Legman.

Around Christmastime in 2009, Kyle, Vicki and her husband, Kyle’s dad Dana Sullivan, of Newcastle, became involved with Muyelele’s new orphanage, appropriately named the Star of Hope.

“That holiday season, we’d decided that we were tired, as a family, of buying each other gifts that we didn’t really need and probably wouldn’t remember, so we decided to help Leonard,” Vicki said.

 In it for the long haul

With the help of some close friends and relatives, the family sponsored a holiday party for the kids, sending each child their first pair of shoes. Upon reviewing pictures of the party afterward, Vicki said they noticed one young girl had a terribly swollen eye, which was later discovered to be a tumor.

Getting the young girl the surgery she needed, Vicki said, became a pressing goal for her and the small group of friends and family who had picked up on the Star of Hope cause. They hosted a charity dance at Wade’s in Seattle in 2010, and surgery for Ivy, the girl afflicted with the tumor, was fully covered by funds raised at the event.

“After that,” Vicki said, “we figured we were in this for the long haul.”

Fast forward almost two years to Valentine’s Day 2012. Somewhere between 75 and 100 people congregated in a private South Lake Union home to raise funds for the Star of Hope — this time with the goal of funding the construction of dormitories for the children that live in the orphanage.

“All 34 children eat and sleep in the same room, a room no bigger than this,” Vicki said, pointing to the boundaries of the room she stood in, a room with dimensions no larger than 15 feet in both directions.

“In this country, even though there’s a lot of need, there’s a safety net. There’re food banks, foster homes and free clinics — still not enough, but it’s something,” Vicki said about choosing to support the overseas cause. “There, there’s nothing. Without help, these children will die.”

‘We all have something we can give’

Education is not free for children in Kenya, explained Jodi Fleischman, the owner of the dance company Left Foot Boogie, who coordinated and helped host the Valentine’s Day event.

“The lack of education defines them,” Fleischman said.

A friend of Vicki and Dana, Fleischman said she was excited to contribute to the cause because to be able to do something she finds joyful, like organize a dance such as the Valentine’s Day affair and “help something that you feel is making a difference in the world — if you can do that, you gotta do that!

“I think it’s important that you can take what you can do and make what difference you can,” she added. “We all have something we can give.”

Last July, the group hosted a dance at the same venue overlooking the glittering South Lake Union where more than 200 people attended, raising more than $6,000 that went straight to the orphanage.

Toting along their freshly raised funds, Kyle, Vicki, Dana and fellow Star of Hope board member and co-founder Selah Brown took a trip to Kenya in August. They visited the orphanage for one week of their three-week stint abroad and got to see the three-room schoolhouse they helped build in 2011.

The interior walls, whitewashed and hand-painted by a local artist, brought tears to Dana’s eyes when he first saw it, Vicki said.

Since her trip, “It’s shifted from an intellectual understanding of what it means to be Third World to actually seeing it,” she said.

Vicki, Dana and Brown, and the other two board members, Marsha Donaldson and Bill Ferris, founded the Star of Hope board in 2009. The next project that the five-member volunteer board will attack is creating a water system, Brown said.

She added that the entire construction effort will be volunteer-based, and the people in the surrounding village play a big role in the project as well.

February’s event doubled what the group had hoped for and they cleared $2,000.

On the Web

Learn more about the Star of Hope Centre for Children and get involved at www.starofhopecentre.org.


Amanda Austin is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.newcastle-news.com.


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