Paru Yusuf is a Volunteer Board Director for the Asante Africa Foundation. Recently returned from her in-country visit to Kenya in March, Paru pauses for a moment to reflect and share her thoughts.
I have been back for a few weeks and though it didn’t take much to fall back into my ‘normal’ US routine, my thoughts still wander frequently to my recent travels, and especially after a trip to rural Kenya it is not easy to let go of some of the experiences. As I remind my girls once again to get to their homework or study for that test, my mind goes to the classrooms of Nchashi Primary School where the back portion of the 8th grade classroom has been converted into a ‘dormitory.’ The students are spending weeknights there to study for exams so they don’t have to waste time in making the long trek back and forth to school everyday. I know their families are sacrificing a lot for the children to be gone during the week — after all, children in rural communities are responsible for so many daily chores. But that is how hungry everyone is for education and families will go to great lengths to support these opportunities. Their children’s education provides them optimism for the future through which they hope to break the cycle of poverty, inequity and lack of access.
So it was a gift to witness firsthand the impact Asante Africa Foundation is having and seeing our work in action. Having done other development work, I think Asante Africa’s approach of partnering with and supporting change led by local leaders is highly effective. Rather than imposing an external version of what is needed, this approach is geared towards local leaders finding local solutions to local realities; it enables local ownership, which then leads to greater success. I was pleased to see that funds that were given in the past have been wisely used and not wasted on projects that are not locally relevant. I am also thrilled with our decision to foster and support the older kids beyond high school. They will be the leaders of tomorrow but still need assistance to achieve their potential.
I am now in touch with some of these young adults and we exchange emails or Facebook conversations. These exchanges enrich me as we get to know each other better but also remind me again of how vast the divide between me here in California and them in rural Kenya is — rich/poor; urban/rural; connected/off the grid, etc. When I don’t get a response back, I know it’s likely to be because the network is down yet again or that they are home for the weekend with no access to a personal computer. I am reminded once again not to succumb to the trite phrases of “it’s such a small world” or “the world is getting smaller and smaller” because the truth is that these kids are a world away in a place that is further than just the physical distance. While I am glad to have this connection with them, we are a long way from equalizing the playing field for them.
As my girls tell me about their day, I know the same conversations are happening in the homes of the kids and families that I met there. I am re-energized to help Asante Africa further its’ work. Asante Africa Foundation provides an opportunity for me to be an advocate for the people we serve. There is a reason to care about children on the other side of the world because what connects us is greater than the distances that separate us. The parents there are just like me wanting only the best for their family; and the children there are just like mine — beautiful smiling, shining hopes for the future.