Even though I know I will view my experience in Kenya in different and new ways as time goes on, as is the case with all significant events in our lives, the major theme I want to share in this final blog post will not change. It is not an emotion I feel or an idea I have come up with, but rather a fact that I learned and think is important to share with the world.
Contrary to media depictions of the African continent, Kenya is full of hope and possibilities. TV, movies and the news would have us think otherwise, and while I knew that the media portrayal of Africa was way off, I had no idea just how wrong it was until I spent time in Kenya, interacting with Kenyans and getting an insiders’ view on so many issues.
What made me get so heated up on this issue was a woman I encountered on one of my first days back home in the US. She told me assertively that the US should not give aid to “Africa” anymore since they just waste it away and aren’t doing anything to help themselves. I didn’t know how to begin my response to a person who so wholeheartedly believed in what she was saying even though she had no idea what she was talking about.
After working with young people who are used to living on about $7 a day take a 20% pay cut in order to volunteer, I was able to see passion for improving negative situations I have never before witnessed. After meeting youth in Kibera who have self-organized into youth groups in order to clean their environment and seek peace after the post-election violence, I saw a young generation committed to change and a better future. And after working with youth who are so thirsty to learn about things like photography and blogging to take action on important issues, I saw such a desire to improve their lives that I have only rarely seen in the US.
But when I came home, I saw images of pirates hijacking ships, cholera outbreaks, and news stories about the aid we give and how it is squandered to corrupt politicians. No wonder the woman said what she did. I am not denying that these things happen, because of course they are real, however, they are not what I would say characterize Kenya or other countries often lumped together as one entity named Africa. The problems are only half the story. No one seems to talk about the other half that tells of people working to fix the problems by forming self-help groups, cleaning up the environment on their own, and being savvy entrepreneurs eager for any opportunity that comes their way.
I am not sure why this depiction of the African continent is so prevalent, and why it continues to be even though it is so incomplete. But I do know that due to this portrayal, many people in this country have such a distorted and negative view, seeing African countries as backwards, hopeless places. The situation is not hopeless like the TV would make you think. But still, some people comfortably give up on the continent, without a second thought, due to what they know from the television.
If only everyone here in the US could have experienced the passion, the drive and the goodwill of ordinary Kenyans, then perhaps they would feel the same optimism and see the same potential that I do for the country. Reaching their goals has been a struggle not because they aren’t doing anything or that the situation is hopeless, but rather due to barriers they face like disease, poverty and lack of opportunity, which are making their very ambitious efforts to improve their society have an effect smaller than what one would expect. Giving up would be like saying that these barriers are insurmountable, that we have done everything in our power to overcome them but have failed.
In fact, we can and should do so much more to support our African brothers and sisters in their mission to improve their societies. While I know Kenyans could overcome their problems themselves, with support they could do so much faster. There is no excuse to watch a struggle from afar when we can give the help that has been requested of us. We can lend a hand, give monetary support to grassroots organizations, urge the US government to pass “Africa” friendly legislation, or do anything that backs up what Kenyans are trying to do themselves to deconstruct the barriers and improve their society. Once the barriers begin to disappear, the true spirit of Kenya will be able to shine through, outshining the negative images that have dominated our psyches for so long and allowing the world to see clearly and fully how great Kenya can become.
Posted By Kristina Rosinsky
Posted Dec 14th, 2008