University Student Promotes Intercultural Learning through Her Own Nonprofit

Intercultural Learning
Crystal Buffington started her own nonprofit organization, and supports an orphanage in Kenya.

Crystal Buffington organizes March 10 fundraiser for Kenyan orphanage

CHICAGO (March 5, 2012) -- Crystal Buffington listened as her grandmother, Bettye Olds-Green, described her community when she was younger. It was a place where neighbors knew each other, and helped each other as if they were family, Olds-Green would say. As she listened to those stories, Buffington wondered, "How can we get back to that place?"

Inspired by her grandmother's stories, Buffington started a nonprofit organization in 2009, Our Village, Our World Inc., thanks to some pro bono assistance from a Chicago law firm. Her vision of building an organization to help children living in challenging socio-economic conditions in the United States and abroad had become a reality. Buffington, from San Diego, Calif., is a North Park University senior majoring in communication with a minor in history.

"Basically what I'm trying to do is create intercultural learning opportunities for school-age children, and also connect and partner with organizations domestically and internationally to help meet their needs financially," Buffington said in an interview. While it's important that children be able to function well in a globalized society by knowing people who live in different cultures, Buffington said it's also important to "empathize" with people who are culturally different.

One way Buffington is putting her vision into action is by doing hands-on work in Africa, providing encouragement and support to an orphanage in Wangige, Kenya, managed by the Caroline Wambui Mungai (CWM) Foundation. Buffington got connected to the orphanage in 2009 through a friend. Our Village, Our World raised $900 through t-shirt sales, and contributed the funds toward the establishment of a library at the orphanage. That summer, Buffington visited the orphanage, which is home to about 40 at-risk adolescents from Kenya and Tanzania.

Intercultural Learning
Buffington, top, worked with students at the Kenyan orphanage when she visited there in 2010.

Her work with the orphanage continues today. On March 10, at 7:00 p.m., Our Village, Our World and the North Park University Office of Diversity and Intercultural Programs will cosponsor a benefit concert for the orphanage in the University's Hamming Hall. Among the performers are the Chicago Children's Choir, Muntu Dance Theatre, Mama Edie Armstrong and Spiritual Journey, Oakdale Christian Academy Concert Choir, and others.

Dr. Terry Lindsay, dean of the University's Office of Diversity and Intercultural Programs, has known Buffington for three years, including working with her when she was president of the African American Student Association. "She has a passion for and is committed to working with elementary school-age students to help them acquire the knowledge and essential skills needed to develop meaningful relationships with individuals who are culturally different than themselves," he said.

"Her professional attitude and ability to get along well with those with whom she worked are among the qualities I respect and admire about her," Lindsay added.

Funds raised from the benefit will be used to help improve the food served to the children at the orphanage, Buffington said. When she visited there in 2010, Buffington noticed that the children ate the same foods every day, such as porridge, and rice and beans. "I want to do something that's lasting," she said. "I figured the best way to do that was to provide them with a chicken coop and vegetable garden. That way they get the variety of nutrition they need." The garden and chicken coop may also serve as a source of income for the orphanage, she said.

"I've been to different places in Africa. But when I was in Kenya, I felt like I belonged. I have a heart for children. In some of these children, I saw my own story of similar things I've gone through in my life. I'm able to connect with them on another level," Buffington said.

This summer, Buffington plans to return to Kenya to visit the orphanage with members of her church, The Church of God in Christ. Among her long-term hopes for Our Village, Our World is the possibility of providing grants and scholarships to community service-minded young people, here and abroad, to visit and work in other countries.

"This work is something that I'm very passionate about. I'm hoping when I graduate, it's something I'm able to become more involved in," she added.

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