A Brighter Day Turned Into Mess

Today I woke up in the morning with a happy face and looking forward to my morning classes. I did not expect that my day would be turned into sorrow. I received a call from Kenya that spoiled my entire day. I love to be happy, to appreciate life and to acknowledge the beauty of nature. As you may know, I love things that money cannot buy. My prayers in the morning are always to live a positive life. I try to think un-harm and not to harm anyone mentally or physically but to live in understanding my fellow human-being.

The call that I received was from Kenya. A young American woman was screaming at me. Ironically, she want me to listen for her ideas. I tried to listen and being nice as possible. But the more she spoke, the more my heart felt like it was being stabbed with an iron. Yes, her words were sharp as an iron and pinching my heart. This woman is a volunteer who requested me to allow her to share her knowledge of sewing with the women in my organization. She sounded talented, and in fact she is skilled in sewing. We agreed that she would volunteer with our organization to train the women. As a student in America, I know how many people from the developed world have caused innocent problems due to cultural differences or misunderstandings. So, I advised the girl not to get involved into anything that might cause problems with my community. Of course she promised to abide by the organization’s rules and she will always consult me.

Now she has messed up with her ideas that can only work in the United States and not in Africa. The women in my community are now upset and against her. They don’t like the way she does things. My community thinks that they have been used and all the blame will be thrown to Kennedy because I allowed her. She even brought her own personal materials and kangas and asked women to make things for her friends on “donated” fabric and they will be paid in a Kenyan standard. That’s when the women differed with her. The American girl insisted that they should abide by her rule. I was honest with her, and I told her, “Don’t use Africans for cheap labor.”  I’m just a servant for my community and if my community said no to her, then she has to listen from the people. It’s sad that she wants to do things in her own way, and won’t listen, respect, or reflect on her mistakes. She has been to Africa only for two months and she thinks she knows Kenya better than even Kennedy. She knows Kibera better than even the people who are living inside the slums. Even what hurts me more is when she’s screaming at me on the phone and I just remember all the foreigners who have treated me like stupid dirt.

These are the issues that I like to disclose because many poor communities suffer in silence when outsiders are forcing them on what they think is perfect. I promised myself to speak for the voiceless. I will speak for the poor in all corners of the world. I know many of them are denied the opportunity to be where I am now. In that case, I’ll carry their voice with me. I will always speak my heart along with what millions of poor people are passing through. I am here in America but my family and my seven siblings are still living in Kibera slums where I grew up. I know that all the poor people of the world speak one language and that language is “poverty.”

I will also embrace and know that there are other good organizations from the Western world who are also doing great things to the poor people around the world

I advise anyone who would like to work in the humanitarian sector in developing countries to be respectful to the community’s cultures. The culture is the backbone of any community, you cannot develop any community without embracing their culture. I know we come from Western world with western education but honestly it offers less in the community work. To be honest, its even brings more trouble as you might think intellectually while the community thinks wisely. In that perspective, there will be no connection at all. The best tool is to understand the people you are working. Give them space and let them share their life with you. It’s better to observe than to make a mess.

I hope the world will change, and a day will come when there will be no one screaming at me because I’m from the developing world.  But instead, they will listen to the wisdom that I gained through hardship life experience and the knowledge  that I got from my great grandfather Chief Owuor.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wiclif Otieno on April 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I totally concur brother. You are indeed an icon. It takes great courage to stand up and talk so boldly about this things. Keep it up Kennedy.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rishabh on May 1, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Mzungu.
    To me that means one who does not understand or want to learn. Foreigner. But it is more than that. It is one who enters a land thinking that their ideas are better than those of anyone and everyone, and that is why they fail.

    They never want to be one with a community. Instead they want to be above it. That, again, is why they fail.

    Volunteers and those ‘trying to help’ are often those who want to THINK that they made a difference, while doing absolutely necessary.

    Kennedy. Brother. I know you, and I know you are kind. I think it is time you learn from this and draft some kind of letter that ‘volunteers’ must sign before they can enter your home and step on your people. That is, to ensure that they don’t do that.

    Yours Kindly,
    Rishabh.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Zayd Anthony on May 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Surely Kennedy, I feel and Hear You. God will reward you, and in the meantime, He’ll Protect You.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Naomi on May 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Dear Bro, I totally sympathize with you and I totally understand the situation….but it still shocks me how ignorant and arrogant wazungu can be. We have had this happen numerous times at Maji. We wazungu know nothing! That is the first rule I always teach my students when they come. We can learn from the community and maybe, only maybe, give something back for all the wisdom, the friendship and beauty that they bestow on us. It is good you set her straight, I hope it will not backfire…I can’t believe she tried to have the women work for her….who does she think she is….this makes me mad, just mad. Hiaya….it is tough, so tough to run your organization on remote control, ama? Love Big Sis

    Reply

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