Jesus is like software. He enters your life, scans our problems and edits our tensions. He downloads our sins, deletes our worries and saves us. He has now been born. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! John FM and Family.
A Personal Account:
My immediate family and some villagers in Kenya have benefited variously from my remittances for the past 18 years that I have lived in Sweden. A significant amount of the contributions have paid tuition fees at different stages. In return, I am glad to have improved the quality of life in that community. This year was not different when I decided to give my rural home church a partial makeover.
My rural home is situated in Nyanza Province, within a part referred to as Luo-Nyanza. This is the poorest province in Kenya and bears the ancestral roots of US President-elect Barack Obama. In a report published by the World Bank in 2005 to indicate the poor-rich divide in Kenyan provinces, the poverty level in Nyanza was ranked at 65 per cent, while my home constituency was among the top ten poorest constituencies.
Most of the people in Luo-Nyanza do not meet the United Nations or the World Bank’s category of “one dollar a day” income, because they are extremely poor. Much of the infrastructure is dilapidated and many residents in the rural parts have no access to pit latrines (flush toilets are a dream), clean water (not even piped), electricity and other necessities. Poverty here is reminiscent of what is shown in the movie called Darwin’s Nightmare.
There are many reasons for the glaring poverty. The main one is the general negligence of rural economic development by past governments despite existing policy. This resulted in skewed regional growth in favor of the politically loyal provinces. For Luo-Nyanza, its past leaning towards Opposition politics meant long spells of economic marginalization by the central government. During this period, the few industries that supported local cash-generating products such as sugarcane and cotton collapsed, leaving many people without employment. However, gradual improvement is now taking place since the old regime was voted out in 2002. The Aids scourge in Luo-Nyanza also continues to shatter the social fabric, leaving many widows and orphans without breadwinners.
After 45 years of Independence from colonial rule, very few people in this province enjoy the economic benefits claimed to be trickling down from the Government. However, I feel that the wealthy members of the province (based in other urban areas), need to “spread wealth around” by investing in their rural homes. The tradition of cash handouts from politicians should cease because it only provides temporary relief, yet sustainable projects are what the people need. Moreover, economic advancement would limit the growing rural-urban migration. For instance, quite a number of those who move to Nairobi city end up in the sprawling Kibera slum without jobs and increase urban poverty. Many also engage in illegal activities to survive and cannot assist those left behind in the villages.
My village church
During 2008, I commissioned the construction of a pit latrine at my village church. I also donated the following items: 10 comfortable pews, a huge digital wall clock, a cupboard for storing various paraphernalia, a table for the altar, and 30 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to the very needy church members. The church has around 100 members and is a platform for both spiritual and social interaction. The venue also hosts crusades which give the congregants an opportunity to exchange knowledge with guest preachers.
For those members who don’t have formal education, the church acts as a base for improving their literacy levels through reading the Bible and checks general morality through preaching temperance. Apart from the Bible, relevant literature is bought or distributed by the mother church and shared among members to improve general awareness. It is noted that the church members adhere to higher hygienic standards compared to some non-members who lack formal education and access to such information.
The villagers were quite happy with the new look I provided and promised to take care of the materials, since they have a sense of ownership. Those who had been assigned the tasks of making and transporting the furniture were very grateful for the financial boost.
The village women and youths
An ongoing project that I am currently struggling with is aimed to train the rural youths in my area to be skilled in various trades. It falls within the broader definition of vocational education. This is an ambition I have nursed for so long and since 2006, I have worked closely with a Kenyan friend based in Europe, to pull those youngsters out of penury. He is also working on a similar mission at his rural home. We have now secured assistance from a group of European donors who will supply the young adults with training equipment in varied fields like masonry and carpentry for the males, while the females shall train to become seamstresses.
My friend and I are forging collaboration between his rural youth team and mine through a more established youth center in Kisumu city, to help with capacity-building. Most of these youngsters are 15-20 years old and only have primary education because they lacked tuition fees to pay through high school.
Recently, an official from the European donor group and my friend visited my village and were quite impressed with the genuine desire among the youths to make positive changes in their lives. They were quite moved to talk to girls of ages 15-16 married off because their families were too poor to send them to high school or training. The project targets around 200 youths who shall be self-reliant after training. There is still a lot to be done but there is hope that more resources will be acquired to make it succeed.
In early 2000, I stayed in my rural home for three months undertaking a private project that required manual work. I needed local help at different stages and 10 women plus four men worked to earn wages from it. The women told me that for the first time they didn’t have to plead for credit at the local market when buying food or with the shopkeepers for anti-malarial drugs or other items. The most hardworking man managed to use his earnings to buy sacks of cereals to sell in the village for profit. He also bought goats that later bred and were sold to buy two young bulls to assist in ploughing his land for growing food.
In 2004, I undertook another project mainly coordinated from Stockholm, which provided temporary employment to 15 young men for four months. It kept them away from milling around the local shopping center and engaging in illegal activities.
Challenge to the African Diaspora
It is pointless shedding tears or feeling sorry while watching kwashiorkor-ridden African children smeared with mucus on television, yet doing nothing. I admire Mr. Bill Gates, Ms. Oprah Winfrey and other philanthropists, who have benefited immensely in the cutthroat capitalist world, yet share their fortunes with those belonging to the forgotten parts of the world.
Dropping a coin or two in a beggar’s bowl is not enough to rinse out the guilt in those who have turned their backs on the rural poor. Personal sacrifice or networking with others is required to make a difference in Africa. It is a long and bumpy road but we must recall the adage: Rome was not built in a day.
I take my hat off to Ms. Lea Chishugi who is based in Britain since 1997, after fleeing the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I watched her on BBC’s HARDtalk on December 17, 2008 and appreciated her personal mission to expose the horrendous situation of women in the deep forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These women are raped, battered and killed by warring rebels and government soldiers. Her life story is astounding; having been brought up in eastern Congo, she moved to Kigali in Rwanda only to face one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history. Now that she is more empowered, she is ready to use her experience to face the ongoing crisis in her birthplace.
Gathering courage to enter places that no outsider had reached before was the first big step that Lea took in helping those women. Her video recordings with their stories will hopefully shake up the world to do more. She has done more than the United Nations Peacekeepers some of whom have been accused before of immoral acts in DR Congo.
For all those hardworking Africans in the Diaspora who spare their efforts and finances to make a difference in rural Africa, may you continue and never give up. What seems small in the Diaspora may rescue and shape up the lives of many poor people down there. Merry Christmas everybody and make 2009 an altruistic year.
Related links (Provided by the author, not automated):
This year’s Jamhuri day celebrations in Nairobi were marked by bitter protests by Kenyans which saw the arrest of journalists, brutalization of activists by equally brutal security guards and attempts by a section of protesters to disrupt the Jamhuri celebrations altogether as President Kibaki was giving his key-note speech.
At the center of the protests is the controversial passing by Parliament of the draconian Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, high food prices that have led to starvation of millions of poor Kenyans across Kenya, failure by MPs to pay taxes for their million salaries and misplaced expenditure and looting of the economy by the ruling class as the country continues to beg for hand-outs from agents of Western imperialism represented by the United States, Britain and the European Union. For more, click the link below…
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Mary X-Mass and Happy New year to all my friends and their famies. Greetings from Makan’s family. We love you all. Keep peace and love on top of the list in 2009.
Mr. Laban Mberi and his family has sent Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Wakenya.