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Creating connections far from home

St. Joseph School administrator Tom Joseph is pictured above with his wife, Teresa, and the principal of St. Patrick's School in Kenya.1 / 2
Tom Joseph teaches in a Kenyan classroom.2 / 2

A trip to Africa last month has strengthened a growing relationship between Rosemount's St. Joseph School and St. Patrick's School of Kenya.

Tom Joseph, St. Joseph's administrator, took the 16-day trip with his wife, Teresa, who teaches at the school. They were part of a group representing Minnesota Catholic Schools as part of a seven-year-old partnership with the Kitui Diocese.

St. Joseph has been paired with St. Patrick's for the past two years. Students have sent emails back and forth, but there was never much opportunity for interaction. Time differences and a lack of computers on the other end limited what they could do. So, when the opportunity to travel to Kenya arose last year, Joseph and his wife were excited.

"We didn't have any idea what the school was like. We didn't have any idea what the students, their needs or desires were."

Joseph has a much better idea now.

St. Patrick's is a boarding school with 78 students in fourth through eighth grades. The school has one computer and students have little in the way of possessions, but Joseph was impressed with how happy everyone seemed to be. Students spent much of their time together. They sang often, and they seemed to enjoy each other's company.

"They all stand and wave and smile," Joseph said. "They're very happy kids, when you consider they don't have a lot."

Joseph and his wife spent about half of their time at St. Patrick's. They also made stops at other schools in the Diocese.

At one stop, Joseph was given a gift of a live goat, a valuable item in an area where meat is hard to come by. Most of the students' meals are beans and rice or a porridge Joseph compared to Cream of Wheat. They get meat maybe once or twice a week.

Joseph left the goat with the students of St. Patrick's.

"KLM airlines would frown on us bringing a goat on board," he said.

Joseph spent time observing, but he also did some teaching. He talked to students about what winter is like in Minnesota. Nobody seemed to quite grasp the concept of ice fishing.

Joseph brought letters with him from St. Joseph students. He came home with letters from the Kenyan students.

He also brought back some ideas. He plans to institute a morning convocation at St. Joseph to build some of the sense of community he saw at St. Patrick's. He'll develop some curriculum for the school based on his experiences in Kenya, and he'll put together a PowerPoint presentation to help him share what he saw. He doesn't want to spend too much time pushing the idea that students can be happy even without the latest clothes or electronics. But he hopes students get that message on their own.

"My goal is not to press any kind of guilt trip on our students. That's the point," Joseph said. "The PowerPoint will speak for itself.

"(Students) should look at that and start to do their own self-reflection."