Kenya Team Update by Tanner Holcomb
Well we made it. After one missed flight, 36 hours in airports, and 26 lost bags, we arrived in Kenya to a cool Friday morning fog. At the Nairobi airport, our team met up with the drivers and security guards who would escort us to the village. In two different vans, we drove on the left side of the road for the last leg of the journey.
As we drove through Kenya, I saw the systemic poverty that still exists in the 21st century. You can see the pictures of starving children and people living on the side of the road, but actually seeing the degraded streets and people working so hard just to stay alive was indescribable. I didn’t truly understand poverty until my first day in Kenya.
While seeing poverty up close is an eye opening experience, it is important to me that we’re not in Kenya for a “poverty tour.” On the van ride, we stopped by some structures to wait up for the van behind us. We got out and walked around. A man approached us and invited us across the street to a hut where he was selling goods. “50 shillings for a Sprite,” he told us. Once we told him that we weren’t interested in buying anything, he wasn’t interested in talking to us. He may only have seen us as Americans with money. But “wealthy” isn’t the only word that we use to describe ourselves in the same way that “poor” isn’t the only word that we use to describe Kenyans. When we revert to simple adjectives to sort people, we lose sight of the importance of our work.
It’s important to understand that this man was not representative of the entirety of Kenya. Once you get to know anyone, you see their complexity. And that’s what we’re doing in Kakuki. When our van pulled into Kajuki, we were greeted by the students in the dorms that Youthlinc built several years ago. They sang to us as the van pulled into the village, and surrounded us in their excitement as we stepped out of the van. Then we both shared parts of our culture with each other in the beautiful Opening Ceremonies.
There’s so much that makes humanitarian aid complicated. Poverty is a complex situation, and complexity is what humanizes people. We’re all more than an income level. We’re all human.
Racial Differences in Kenya
I got off the van in the village to hands grabbing my white skin and feeling my blonde hair. Ever since we arrived, the villagers have stared at us. In Kenya, we’re different, and many of the villagers have never seen white people before.
One of our team members is from Jamaica. The schoolchildren stare at her more than us. Mama Rose told us it is because they were surprised to see another black person come to the village. Often the children associate wealth with white skin and seeing someone like themselves come from a position of privilege is completely new to them. It’s empowering to them too. They see someone who they can aspire to become.
Yesterday, we were playing soccer with the kids on the field. One boy extended his black palm next to my teammate’s white hand. He asked, “Which is better?” Surprised at the question, she responded by telling him, “they are both good.” The boy was skeptical. “No, your white hand,” he told her. My teammate smiled and reiterated that the two skin colors were equal. She had to repeat herself four times before the boy admitted that maybe the two races were equal.
Where do the schoolchildren get that whites are better than blacks? Do they associate power and privilege with white people? Does the belief stem from structural discrimination and humanitarian work in the impoverished areas?