Category Archives: Children

For the love of God, STOP: On stereotypes, the church and Africa

It is too early in the year for the type of ignorance being peddled about Africa by some church affiliated folk in the name of missionary work. In this era of Google and social media, why do people insist on clinging to that false image of Africa? You know, the country ravaged by disease, poverty and war where people live in anything but buildings? In a time when information is literally at people’s fingertips, is it that difficult for one to educate themselves about African countries? Sure, you don’t have to know everything about all 54 of them but knowing that Africa is NOT a country is a solid first step. It’s not a hard concept to grasp guys.

I came across an article titled “First Presbyterian Church recreates rural African town.” The church, which is in Gainsville, Georgia, was scheduled to have a “Life in an African Village,” event this past weekend. According to the article, the event was geared towards teaching children in the area about daily life in a foreign country and missionary work. Because life is the same in each and every village across the continent…ha! The children would “build makeshift huts, listen to African drumming and sing African tunes…” How would they build the huts, you ask? Well, when I initially read the article, there were pictures of cardboard boxes open on the side with hay on top. I think that is how they were planning on doing it. The pictures have since been taken down. I wonder if it’s because they finally did some research and realized that that is not how huts look. Or maybe not. A girl can hope.

If that’s how they think huts look, you can only imagine what they told the children about living in a village. Only heaven knows what they said about the African culture that people love to define in ways that align with their personal interests. The guest speaker and performer at the event was a Zambian man who was also in attendance at the same event last year. Ala! Didn’t this depiction of Africa bother him!? Or did he say something about it last year and the organizers just didn’t listen? But then again, there is always that one African patting these we-will-misrepresent-Africa-because-we-have-decided-that-our-version-of-Africa-is-more-accurate-than-reality types on the back.

Then there is an American woman who went to Kenya on a mission trip and didn’t fall in love with the country. Why? Because she didn’t see poverty nor encounter people who don’t speak English, as she had expected. Yes, this happened, as written on her blog. Her entire post is condescending and made me question the motives of her mission trip. I guess we now know what happens when savior complex and superiority complex thrive in an individual.

The woman’s post will make you believe that people go on mission trips to delight in seeing poverty and feel good about waving their invisible alleviate-the-suffering-of-the-locals magic wand.  Seriously, how else can you explain this excerpt from her blog post?
My heart was prepared for dirt floors.
For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.

not this.

Eh!? You would think that when someone plans to go on a trip to a country they have never been to before they would do research on said country. Isn’t that just the common sense thing to do? Clearly she couldn’t be bothered with all that. She had created this image of Kenya in her mind and that is much more important than the reality on the ground.

Who gets discouraged by not seeing poverty!? Shouldn’t that, I don’t know, ENCOURAGE  you!? Shouldn’t it make you realize that the images you see in movies and commercials are completely distorted to push a certain agenda? Shouldn’t it make you want to change that and present accurate images of the country? That could become your mission, no?

It seems that this lady was so set on jetting in, tiling the dirt floors, washing the dirty laundry, clothing the half naked kids, putting balm on their bug bites and of course teaching Kenyans English.  While we are at it, why would dirty laundry be hanging anywhere? Because cleanliness is only reserved for wealthy folk and those from the West or? Oh, where would we be without her blessed heart and those of others like her?

Why spend all the time, money and effort to go to a country if you are hell-bent on forcing it to fulfill your stereotypes? How much good can you do for people if you are struggling to accept the fact that their circumstances are not as you expected? Is it not possible to spread His message where dirt floors and half naked children are not involved?

That blog post is both ridiculous and disturbing. This had been said before and evidently, we need to keep saying it. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, doesn’t need to be saved. What we need is non predatory partnerships, among others, to fuel our socio-economic growth and political development.

So, if you are going to teach children about mission work and Africa, please present the continent accurately. It’s the least you can do given all the resources available at your fingertips. Perpetrating stereotypes is lazy and a disservice to all involved. Avoid the reenactments too. There are plenty of pictures of huts online…no need for hay and cardboard box tricks. If you are going on a mission trip, research on the country you are going to. Leave your ignorance, prejudice and pre-determined uninformed solutions at your house. Interact with people, find out what their community needs and how you can be of help.

MAMA’S WORDS – ANGELS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THUNDER

BY WINLET

My maternal grandmother is one blessed with wits that well match her cheer and constant laughter. Stories she has told us by candlelight, by the fireplace, and outside her house as we enjoyed the warm sunny afternoons, still linger in my mind and will probably stay in my heart for as long as I’ll be able to remember.

Grandma had a beautifully furnished bedroom. It was nothing fancy. Just a small room, but very neat(I carry those perfectionism genes 🙂 ), clean and decorated with beautiful crocheted cloths and simple antiques. She referred to it as her ‘sanctuary’. The first time I walked into it, I knew then why she spent so much of her morning time locked up in there, singing hymns and praying. I certainly would choose to stay in there and write, listen to music, read or just sleep.

One rainy evening, we followed our doting grandmother, and huddled in her sanctuary where she offered us a snack of fried dry maize (It’s a Luhya delicacy). We loved listening to her, loved her cheery voice and definitely her stories. Occasionally, the loud clap of thunder would make us all jump. She laughed – really laughed.

“That shouldn’t scare you at all. You know why? That’s just the angels in heaven, rearranging God’s furniture.”

I was surprised. In all the few years I had lived, I had never heard such an explanation for thunder before. I had read stories in the story books at school about gods getting angry at humans; none of them fascinated me as much as her explanation.

I couldn’t help smiling as I pictured white-robed angels with feathery wings, shoving sofas and chairs and TV sets across the bare wooden floors of heaven. Without doubt, this heightened my awe and respect for angels as I’d imagined them in my mind.

I loved and still love the way this beautiful woman talks. “Angels moving furniture…”

Good News – A Politician Who Gets It

Gals and guys, please lets give a virtual standing ovation + round of applause + drum circle hum to one Dr. Alfred Mutua, the governor for Kenya’s Machakos County. Now, here is a politician who gets it. One who knows what leadership with a purpose means. One who is not too busy pretending to be doing important things by driving around in a luxury vehicle. One who is actually doing important things. One who is taking active steps to ensure the progress of his community. One who is not too afraid to do the work. One who exemplifies the type of leader that Kenya needs.

At the beginning of the year, Dr. Mutua launched a comprehensive security program for his county complete with security officers, security dogs, a security call center and 120 new security vehicles. Security officers have been notorious for not responding in times of need either because they claim they have no vehicle or no fuel for available vehicles. In some cases people have actually been told to commit to buying the fuel before security personnel can respond…SMH. We all know the importance of security. This comprehensive program is thus very welcome. Oh…CCTV cameras have also been installed around the county. Now, if only other county leaders could borrow this leaf.

He also launched a bursary program at the beginning of the year. The Kshs 80M (a lot of money in any currency) fund “is going to benefit orphans, bright and talented students and vulnerable children in the County.” Yes! Investing in the children secures their future and that of generations to come. Also, education is power and a stepping stone to many a realized dreams. After launching the program, he visited a high school in the area and committed to donating money to help them complete a block of classrooms that were under construction. Yes! Ensuring that the students have conducive learning spaces is a step in the right direction. You hear that Mr. President et al.!? Rushing to give students laptops before making sure that they are no longer forced to sit on stones and learn under trees…hmmm.

Earlier this month, he launched the Machakos Peoples’ Park complete with a fountain, amphitheater, benches and washrooms. The park looks great…at least from the pictures that I have seen. It’s all part of a tourism program to attract both local and international tourists to the county.  Another initiative is “Machawood” which is an entertainment center for film, music and arts. This is an exciting one for me. There is so much talent in the area. I remember growing up in Machakos and going to watch plays on Friday nights with my family. Having a center dedicated to this is a win not just for Machakos but any county.

He hasn’t stopped there. The Machakos County government is in the process of constructing major roads within the county. Teams have also been put in place to make sure that any road maintenance issues are addressed with speed and accuracy. The governor and his government are also working with farmers in the area in order to boost agriculture and ensure food security in the region.

Some people on social media say that the governor is being over ambitious. Well, I would rather that than having zero ambitions like most of our politicians. Dr. Alfred Mutua is taking the necessary steps to promote socio-economic growth and development in his county. Kudos to him! I, for one, am looking forward to his other projects. He seems to have a solid plan in place and I hope he has included in that maintenance plans for everything. I urge you to visit his page “Dr. Alfred Mutua” on Facebook for regular updates on the goings on in Machakos County as relates to this.

Keeping Up With The Kenyans

I was reading the online version of the Daily Nation (one of Kenya’s major newspapers) earlier today. On the home page was the headline “Kenya Foreign Minister praises AU role on Hague cases.” What, you said? Yeah, that’s the same reaction I had. We are still patting the good old AU on the back for their involvement in the Kenya (read Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto) – ICC cases. It turns out that during a summit last year, the AU “resolved that serving Heads of State and their deputies should not be tried at the ICC…” According to the Foreign Minister, “AU decided President Uhuru Kenyatta should not attend trial in The Hague and he has not while Deputy President William Ruto has been granted partial excusal and does not have to attend all the court sessions.” Oh okay. Uhmm…good for you AU. Here is an imaginary standing ovation for achieving something that is neither here nor there in terms of Africa’s development. It’s better than nothing, I guess. Also, here’s an invisible round of applause for making what we, Kenyans, had been told is a personal challenge an AU priority. So much for your shift of focus to “an organization spearheading Africa’s development and integration.”

Speaking of the president acting on other people’s decisions, turns out it’s not just with the AU, it happens in Kenya too. A few weeks ago, the deputy president claimed that the president had been “misadvised in making some appointments that contravened the law.” The appointments in question were those of parastatal heads. One of the controversial appointments was that of Abduba Dida, a 2013 presidential candidate whose leadership capabilities are questionable at best. The other one was that of a certain well-known Kenyan, who shall remain unnamed and who has been in the country’s political landscape since the dinosaur days. Pray tell, how exactly is the president “misadvised” on such matters!? Isn’t he supposed to be well-versed in the lawful procedure of appointing public heads!? When his advisers hand him a list of names, shouldn’t he at least read up on those people to find out if they can deliver!? If they can effectively do the job!? So many questions which will probably go unanswered because…accept and move on…

Meanwhile, this is another headline, “Public schools unprepared for laptops as launch date approaches this term.” The government promised free laptops to all standard one pupils. It’s a great idea. Let’s promote technology and innovation in our country. However, steps need to be taken to ensure that the program is a success. If schools lack basic infrastructure, then what are laptops going to do for them? There are some schools where students learn under a tree. Shouldn’t the focus be on ensuring that they have furnished classrooms!? If you have tried working on your laptop for extended periods while it is on your lap you know how uncomfortable it gets. Do we really want our  children to be subjected to that!? Leap frogging is well and good and very welcome around this parts. However, there are some basic amenities that just have to be in place. Don’t we want to create a conducive environment for the children’s learning and to promote the effective use of their laptops!?

When oh when will we stop putting the cart before the horse!? When oh when will we stop with the band aid solutions!? When oh when will we start putting urgent issues on the priority list!? When oh when will our politicians stop pointing the finger and just take the blame for things they have done!? When oh when!?

Not Your Insult

Why is it that people use girl as an insult? “You throw like a girl,” “Stop being such a girl,” “Quit acting like a girl,” these are just a few examples. There are very many variations of “girl as insult” out there. Why do we as a society condone this bizarreness!? When is the last time you heard someone say, “Don’t be such a boy” as an insult!? When is the last time you heard boy/man/gentleman/male being used to insult anyone!? Can’t remember, huh!? Maybe it’s because those words are typically used to denote positive attributes. We all know what phrases like “You’re the man,” and “Man up” mean. A girl accomplishes something and suddenly it’s “You’re the man Jane!” Whatever happened to “Congratulations!” or “Great job!”? Do they not suffice? Do they not aptly capture the moment and sentiments that follow?

I really do think the fact that girl is considered/used as an insult by some sections of society plays a part in the way girls/women/females/ladies are treated and viewed by those very sections. We have basically been reduced  to insults to be thrown around without much thought. It’s dehumanizing and results in women being treated as objects.

Every time someone hits me with “Don’t be such a girl,” or words to that effect, I always reply with “I.AM.A.GIRL,” and then serve them a generous portion of the side-eye. If I am not  feeling particularly generous, I tell them to go jump off a cliff, and then walk away. When I have the time and energy, I recommend books they should read to rid them of their foolishness.

We need to stop this craziness though. It might be hard to change the minds of much older folk but it is not too late for the younger ones. I am not in any way saying that we should condone such behavior from people who are older. If they throw a variation of one of the “girl insults” at you, calmly and politely tell them that you were not born to fulfill their warped beliefs. For the younger people…just change your ways…recognize that girl is not your insult…as a matter of fact it is simply NOT AN INSULT.  For those with young children, please don’t impart “girl as an insult” on them. If your baby boy isn’t particularly good at kicking a soccer ball, don’t tell him “You kick like a girl/Stop kicking like a girl.” Find other ways to improve his game. Don’t tell your daughters “Don’t be such a girl,” either.

Being a girl is not a negative thing. Believe that.