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Happy Birthday America! About two weeks ago, my phone was filled with notifications of all the snapchats, Facebook statuses and tweets of friends and family celebrating 238 years of sweet, sweet, independence.
So, how did I celebrate my Independence Day? Well, I rolled up to work blasting “Born in the USA,” started on some writing while listening to my ultimate Independence Day playlist including “Party in the USA”, “Surfin USA”, “Rockin in the USA,” and the cherry on top? Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Made in America.”
But what really made this day interesting was the opportunity I had to talk with my Kenyan friends about how our two countries celebrate independence from the British. I loved a lot of things about our conversation, and I gained so much understanding about their perspective on our great American nation, and on their newly independent country.
Unfortunately, I’m not satisfied with where we left the conversation. Actually, I was pretty upset thinking about how our nations view each other.
I realized that many of my Kenyan friends had high regard for America. The great American dream was quite prevalent within our conversation. Stereotypes were flying. “You’re all so rich, you have no problems,” “Anyone that makes it to America will be able to do anything they want, because there are endless opportunities there.” My Kenyan friends see America as the PERFECT nation, with a PERFECT government, and PERFECT economy.
Now, although I’m proud to be an American, I’ll gladly stand up to point out that our beautiful nation is far from perfect. We don’t have a perfect government, or a perfect economy, or a perfect social structure to offer equal opportunity. It really bothered me that the myth of the American dream was so prevalent. I started to question our American views of Africa, and Kenyans in particular.
When thinking about East Africa, my mind goes straight to the foreign aid and NGO commercials with sad guilt trip songs playing in the background. I find myself going to images stuck in my mind of babies with swollen bellies and children suffering from malnutrition standing in mud and trash. I feel like our conversations about Africa always include, “how can we help those poor, poverty stricken people?” Our conversations stereotype Africans as the helpless people who are caught in a disaster of a reality. And this bothers me more than the Kenyan view of America.
I’ve been living in this country for a month and a half now, but I’ve come to have a great amount of respect and love for the people here. Through the staff at Tumaini Kwa Watoto, I’ve learned that Kenyans are hard workers and they are passionate. They care about each other and hold high value in friendship and family. It is truly a beautiful and refreshing way to live. Working alongside the social workers of Tumaini Kwa Watoto, I’ve come to gain a new perspective on how we view young nations, like Kenya.
I’ve gone out to the streets, homes, and schools with social workers who are hope to the children in Kenya. I’m walking alongside leaders who want to help these children form dreams for their future and find ways to help them reach those dreams. Tumaini Kwa Watoto sees these kids as young people filled with potential and even though they have made a few mistakes along the way, they are worthy of achieving their dreams and they are capable of reaching those dreams.
I’ve stopped seeing Kenya as this place plagued with violence and corruption, and reminding myself that on December 12 this nation will be celebrating 50 years of independence. I’ve started to see this newly independent nation the way that Tumaini Kwa Watoto sees children. This nation is capable, and filled with potential.
Yes, new governments make mistakes, but think about the USA after 50 years of independence. We made quite a few mistakes as we were trying to figure out what it meant to be “Land of the Free.” We have almost 200 extra years of experience, and we are still far from perfect.
With this in mind, I’ve started to recognize the progress that has been made here in Kenya. I’ve begun to acknowledge that this is a country with a vision for their future, and they are people worthy of achieving that dream.
May God bless America, complete with its faults, and God bless Kenya, complete with faults and all its potential.
About the Author: Laura is a 2014 WND Intern. Born and raised in St.Paul, Minne-snow-ta, but has spent the last three years of her life in Indianapolis as a Butler Bulldog studying Media, Rhetoric & Culture. Laura enjoys learning about tigers, coffee bean roasting, and international politics. She has vast knowledge in the history of rap music and Boy Meets World.