ALC students tying quilts, gathering Beanie Babies for new Ngatha orphanage

Even in places that straddle the equator, nights can be chilly. A cozy quilt can offer some comfort while you cuddle a small stuffed animal of your very own.

Even in places that straddle the equator, nights can be chilly. A cozy quilt can offer some comfort while you cuddle a small stuffed animal of your very own.

This is the picture floating through the heads of students and staff at the Willmar Area Learning Center as they work on quilts and sort Beanie Babies to ship to the Ngatha International children's home in Kenya.

The children's home will open in January on an old British colonist farmstead in the central highlands of Kenya, according to Ngatha board member Tammi Joy Parsons of Spicer.

Parsons is a former student of Monica Villars when she taught in the Bird Island schools and she serves on the board of the Demo Inc. arts foundation co-founded by Villars.

Through those connections, Villars became aware of the Ngatha project and has spearheaded the effort at the ALC -- where she now teaches -- to gather quilts, toys and clothing to ship to the children's home.


The 5-acre farmstead is in an area the size of Kandiyohi County that is home to 15,000 orphans, because of the epidemic of AIDS sweeping across the continent, Parsons said. The children's home will take in 50 orphans in January and will grow over time to house 120 boys and girls. The children were orphaned when their parents died of AIDS.

So far, students and staff at the ALC have collected more than 1,000 Beanie Babies and have been tying quilts that will go into the shipping containers Ngatha International will be sending in a few weeks.

The students passed the 1,000 mark on Monday, and donations kept coming in after that.

They clipped the plastic strips holding the tags on and then reattached the tags with safety pins. Each tag tells a story about the animal, so they wanted to send the tags along.

"They can use the pins for something else, and we won't leave all the little plastic things over in Kenya," Villars said.

As they prepared the stuffed animals, they counted them and kept a running total that was posted on a thermometer-style graph in the hall outside the school office.

The Beanie Babies were an idea that came from Villars and the school, Parsons said.

It will be a wonderful treat for the children in that area to have the stuffed animals as "their own little thing," because "if they have toys, they've made them themselves," she said. The Beanies seem to be well constructed and should be a lasting, colorful toy for the children, she added.


Cody Kirgiss, 16, of Willmar said he's been having fun processing and counting the Beanies, because he's doing it for people who don't have anything. The Beanies will find good homes with the children in Africa, "so they have a little friend or toy to play with," he said.

Everyone has done what they can to build the school's donation.

"We've had kids bring in boxes of stuff to donate, and we've had kids bring in one shirt, and it all adds up," Villars said. Some of the students dug into their childhood collection of Beanies and brought them to school.

Villars said her students have talked about the needs of the children there, and they want to help. They recently watched the movie "Pay It Forward," about people doing good deeds for others to repay a favor done for them.

Several students tying quilts said they have done volunteer work before, but most had never worked on quilts before.

Ivy DeLaGarza, 15, of Willmar, said she had never tied a quilt before, but she's found that tying the strips of yarn into square knots on the quilt is pretty easy. While she does it, she said, she thinks about the kids who will use them and how "they're going to be warmer."

Ngatha International

Ngatha means "virtuous woman" in the Kikuyu language of Kenya. Ngatha International is also an acronym for National Global Association for Thrift and Humanitarian Aid.


Parsons is a founding member of Ngatha International along with St. Cloud State University Professor Mumbi Mwangi, who is a native of Kenya, and Joy Parker of Paynesville. They all serve on the Ngatha board of directors in this country. Ngatha has another board in Kenya to help oversee the development and operation of the children's home and school.

Once people in the area near Mount Kenya hear about the children's home, "all of this keeps changing and growing and snowballing," she said.

What was to be a home for 20 orphans has grown into a home for 50, and eventually 120, plus a school. Ngatha is helping to provide equipment and supplies for a local medical clinic.

Having the board in Kenya and the support of other organizations in the country will help ensure that donations from Minnesota are used as they are intended, Parsons said.

"We're asking people to reach out and help, and there's a sense of responsibility with that," she said.

People from the area will be hired as cooks, groundskeepers, teachers and caregivers. In an area where people generally earn the equivalent of $30 a month, Ngatha plans to pay about $50 a month. That will raise the standard of living for the workers, and the money will circulate through their local economy, Parsons said.

The farm, which already has an irrigation system, will be used to feed the people who live there and to teach sustainable farming practices.

The children's home and school will offer HIV and AIDS education. It will also try to teach boys and girls there to view each other as partners and equals.


How to help

Anyone who is interested may sponsor a child at the Ngatha children's home for $36 a month. For more information, send an e-mail to .

Donations may be dropped off at Peart & Associates, 500 Industrial Drive, in Willmar's Industrial Park.

The organization's Web site is under construction and will be online after Jan. 1 at .

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