KHS graduate helps draw attention to the plight of Kenyan orphans

The Roots of Happiness/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ryan Abella, a Kingman High grad and videographer, stands in the midst of a bunch of children from the Tumaini Children’s Home in Nyeri, Kenya, while filming “The Roots of Happiness.” The film crew is hoping to sell the film and use the funds to send some of the children to college.

The Roots of Happiness/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ryan Abella, a Kingman High grad and videographer, stands in the midst of a bunch of children from the Tumaini Children’s Home in Nyeri, Kenya, while filming “The Roots of Happiness.” The film crew is hoping to sell the film and use the funds to send some of the children to college.

KINGMAN - A movie 2006 Kingman High School graduate Ryan Abella helped produce doesn't have computer generated graphics or special effects. It isn't a romantic comedy or a murder mystery.

But it will melt your heart.

You can't help smiling when you see the children at the Tumaini Children's Home, an orphanage in Nyeri, Kenya, in the movie trailer for "The Roots of Happiness."

Abella's father, Frank, was the first of the family to visit the orphanage when he delivered more than 8,000 shoes for the non-profit organization Think Kindness in 2009.

The Reno, Nev.-based organization encourages students and adults to practice random acts of kindness, both at home and globally, through donations or volunteering for various non-profit organizations.

When he returned to the United States in 2009, Frank, a photographer and videographer, asked Ryan, a film/photography major at Northern Arizona University, to join him on a second trip and help with the production of a movie about the orphanage.

Frank, Ryan and Frank's wife Elizabeth Abella, along with film director Matt Schultz and producer Brian Williams, made the three-day trip back to Tumaini with packs full of school supplies, shoes and medical supplies in July 2010.

The group also raised enough money from private and public donors to purchase a chicken coop with nearly 500 chickens to provide eggs for the orphanage. Eggs are an easy source of protein that has been lacking from the children's diet, Ryan said.

"It was just total chaos. We had kids and chickens running everywhere," Ryan said.

He was amazed by the generosity of the people and organizations that donated. Most of the donations came from Kingman residents and organizations.

"It was the one community where people really took on the challenge and stepped up to the plate," he said.

Kingman Regional Medical Center donated a huge package of medical supplies.

Kingman Academy of Learning student Susie Wilson-Levinson collected $250 selling homemade cinnamon buns and salsa.

There were also numerous private donors from the community, who wished to remain anonymous, Ryan said.

The donations and supplies were icing on the cake for the children at Tumaini, who were just happy to have visitors.

"The kids are just amazing. They are the happiest kids in the world and they have hardly anything. It really shapes your perspective on life," Ryan said.

He thought the film crew might have problems coaxing the kids out of their shells during the first few days of filming but the opposite happened. The kids swarmed the crew as soon as they got out of the car, laughing, chatting, and asking them all sorts of questions.

The kids would plop down next to you on the ground and tell some of the funny secrets that all children keep, Ryan said.

Ryan and the rest of the crew had to film from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day to make sure they got enough footage for the hour documentary they planned to create. It took the crew several months to put together the finished film.

"We all have jobs, so we were working on it on a part-time basis," he said.

While working on the writing for the film, Ryan said he often wondered if he was up to the challenge. Not because he is not a good writer or producer, but because it often felt as if the success of the film was riding on his words. If the film bombed, it would mean he failed the children.

The crew has shown the film at several independent film events including the Quesnel Film Festival in Canada, the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival in Maine, and the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho.

It even took the best documentary award at the Boreal Woods Independent Film Festival in Canada.

The group has several more film festivals lined up, including one in Laughlin later this year, Ryan said.

But what they really want to do is find a company that is willing to buy and market the film, he said.

Charity can become a crutch, Ryan said. People come to depend on it. It's nice to fund a well or donate shoes, but what happens when the well breaks and no one has the skills to repair it? What if people have so many shoes now they're selling the rest on the street?

In order to prevent the children at Tumaini Children's Home from becoming dependent on foreign aid, the group has set up a special scholarship fund to send some of the children to college.

"We're not Kenyans. We don't know what Kenya or its people need," Ryan said.

The Roots of Happiness is hoping to send at least three students to college in Kenya or even the U.S. They're hoping that the student will learn the skills they need to make improvements to their country from the inside.

The best way to raise the money is to find a buyer for the film.

For more information on The Roots of Happiness or to watch the movie trailer, visit rootsofhappiness.org. To donate to The Roots, click on the Think Kindness logo near the bottom of the website.

For more information on Think Kindness, visit www.thinkkindness.org.

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Son follows dad's footsteps to Kenya, Ryan Abella asking for donations from Kingman community (Posted 5/23/2010)