The question every world traveler is inevitably confronted with upon one’s return is the well-intentioned, but terribly unwieldy, “How was (insert country name here)?” After all, how do you reduce a country to a word, even an emphatic one, let alone a sentence, or even several strung together?
In my case, Kenya was many things. Kenya was a country chained to a tortured infrastructure and limited opportunity: Roads with more holes than pavement; Primary school students with more dreams than their resources could afford; Women with more entrepreneurial ideas than capital or practical business planning skills.
As a consequence, life for most Kenyans is a struggle for the barest necessities – most people still get by on less than two dollars a day.
When people hear this, the natural response is to feel pity, or even guilt, toward such poverty. “How sad,” they say. And to some degree, it is a tragic state, or at least can be – heartbreaking stories were easy to come by. But while I was actually there, in Kenya, I wasn’t impressed by any pervasive sadness or despair, but rather, the lack of it. Despite the poverty, Kenyans go about their daily business with self-respect, decency, warmth, and sense of humor. Everyone is dressed neatly and fashionably, the women colorful and the men clean-shaven, as if to say “Don’t define us by our poverty – the two dollars – but by our tenacity: the fact that we still get by.”
Kenyans are a reminder to me of how tenacious the human being can be, how we can survive in the most difficult of circumstances. In a sense, the Kenyans don’t need anyone’s help, including the OFDC’s. They will carry on much as they have for generations, even improving their lot over time. What our assistance can do, however, is give a little boost to that progress. In my 3 weeks of visiting OFDC projects, my overall impression was that as a “non-governmental organization” or NGO, the OFDC is ironically doing what all good governments do: investing in the infrastructure and human capital of the country. Whether it is supplying funds for water wells, latrines (see previous post), school desks, uniforms, sponsorships, AIDS awareness, or micro-credit, the OFDC is building the resource base of the Kenyan people to make it a bit easier to “get by,” and perhaps even thrive.
Everyone who has committed their time or wealth to OFDC projects should feel very proud: you have made a very wise investment in indomitable people.