Community comes together to help Kenyan student finish degree

LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) – The Lawton Ballet Theater is collecting donations to help the male lead in their upcoming performance of The Nutcracker finish his college education.

7News Video Journalist Seth Marsicano spent the day getting to know Francis Waweru, a foreign student from Nairobi, Kenya, who came to Cameron University to study Theater after two local dance instructors discovered his passion for the arts.

“I was born in Nairobi capital, in Dagoretti. That’s why this is like a small slum back home. And then opportunities came by, and then I just you know just kept consistent. Getting to experience a whole different place, that’s one of the big things, different culture,” said Waweru.

Almost 4 years ago, Waweru met Lawton Ballet Theater Artistic Director Katie Veenhuizen, while she was on a special trip to Kenya to teach dance to underprivileged children in Nairobi. Waweru was born to a single mom in Nairobi, who worked in the household of a wealthy family. He grew up with his mother in a small room in the servants’ quarters on the family’s compound, which didn’t even have indoor plumbing. In 2019, his mom lost her job and was forced to move to the Middle East to take a position as a domestic worker. According to his foster mother, Cooper Rust, he has not seen her since.

“I first met Francis in, I think, 2018. When we as a studio, myself and another instructor, took a trip to Kenya to teach for Dance Center Kenya. And, they were all in different places in their lives and Francis was at a bit of a crossroads, trying to decide did he want to continue working in dance or did he want to take another path,” said Veenhuizen.

At that point, Veenhuizen introduced Waweru to an idea that would change his life.

“And so, they talk to me about Cameron University and so they told me how they offer technical theater as a major here,” said Waweru.

Waweru came to Cameron University in 2020 and began a degree in Technical Theatre, however, the rising cost of tuition has been an ongoing struggle. Even though, Waweru has maintained an “A’ average, making the President’s Honor Roll his very first year.

“It just lit up a passion in Francis. He is incredible at it. He’s a duck to water, really, with this. Who wouldn’t want more talented people here? Who wouldn’t want people who are just as invested as our locals? Like, Francis has been here since, gosh, I guess two years now and I think he really feels like this is a second home for him. He wants to be here. He wants to continue to be a dancer or performer or technician. He wants to continue to invest in the arts community here, so we want him to stay and to continue to bring all of his talents,” said Veenhuizen.

His foster mother, Cooper Rust, started a GOFundMe to help Waweru finish his education at Cameron, in hopes that he will remain a Lawton resident and share his passion for the arts for many years to come! They aren’t even halfway to their goal of $12,000, but with a little help from the community, they hope to reach their goal.

“I just wanna, I just love the arts! I wanna be around it. You just become free, you know, it gives you that gives you that freedom and that space to you know be creative. Having to put in the work behind the scenes, going at it every day, that’s what makes the whole show come to life,” said Waweru.

If you would like to learn more about Waweru, or make a donation, visit his GoFundMe here.

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