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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living with Poverty

I live in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Nairobi. We landed here because it's the closest neighborhood to my school. Rosslyn did not plan this, when it was founded they were surrounded by coffee fields. Now with the addition of the US Embassy, the UN and a mall it's become quite a wealthy area. One would think that living up here I wouldn't see that much poverty. Hidden in the corners of this neighborhood are two 'informal settlements.' Where the houseworkers and guards and drivers live that work for the people in these multi-million dollar houses.
Last week I was pulling out of our compound and I had to unlock and open out gate and pull my car through and then get back out and close the gate. As I was doing this I saw a little boy walking in front of our gate. His clothes were ragged and he was not in school on a school day. The second he saw me I knew what was going to happen. He started begging, even though I made no eye contact and was just quickly getting in and out of my car. As I jumped back in amidst his please I scanned our center console. We usually keep change here for giving to beggars and tipping the gaurds who take our grocery carts. It was empty. I had no cash in my purse. I lifted my hands in a helpless gesture and said, 'I have nothing,' and drove away feeling like a hypocrite. Who am i to tell this child that I, in my car, with my house, have nothing.
But this goes deeper than that. People beg from us all the time. Packs of these children wonder through our streets daily, unattended and loose. They are told if they get hit by a car they will get money. The other day as I was driving I saw a little girl push another little boy, who I would guess was about three years old, in front of my car and when he made it to the other side before I ran him over she turned and started making hand to mouth motions that is a question for money or food. That's the second time that has happened to me.
What I am supposed to do with this? Kenya has the ability to feed it's own people but because of corruption many go hungry. There is this dynamic that the west will give and solve your problems. As a white face I represent the west.
Do I just give blindly and teach that this is true? Do I give to a child who will just take the money and spend it on sweets? What if that child takes it home and their mom saves it for food or school fees? How do I know?
Yet, we are called to give. We are not made of stone. These children are hungry or at least locked into a system that does not allow them to rise above.
I think this is the hardest part of coming to Kenya. Realizing that this problem of the poor is so much bigger than me. Is so much more complicated than just putting food in the mouths of the hungry. I can't fix it. I can't solve it. And I am beginning to wonder more and more if it is even my place...

1 comment:

becky said...

i can totally understand what you're saying. it's so hard to know what's best. and it's not just there. the poverty i work with, a totally different kind than yours, the kind where they rent huge tvs and have computers and mcdonalds but live welfare check to welfare check and often can't pay bills, is similarly difficult. they too have been taught that they will be bailed out by the rich, white guys (aka government). so, how do i help? do i give when they ask? is my outreach effort to give them school supplies when i know they were given money for it but spent it on booze? are hand-outs really what they need? but in the meantime, those kids don't have pencils for school. so. there it is. it seems dismal and impossible and depressing.