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Community: What the People of Kenya Taught Me
I wasn't prepared to see some of the suffering I witnessed on my recent trip to Kenya with ONE.org, which will always remind a part of me. Likewise, I wasn't prepared to see the ways in which the Kenyan people are overcoming their suffering, which will forever change me.
I didn't snap a pic of the child I saw who was suffering from Malaria. I didn't capture images of the people I saw who had HIV. I didn't take pictures of the people who were potentially dying of tuberculosis, or the kids who would never receive an education, or who were living and starving in poverty. Their beautiful faces are a part of my memory, but not something I felt was OK to share. It felt too personal and I felt like I would be invading their privacy and exploiting their suffering.
Instead, as I look back through my images, I focus on the hope of Africa, or the overcoming of the suffering, which Kenya had in spades. I focus on a people who are so tightly woven as communities that they spent hours taking care of each other in their most dire circumstances.
I think of the woman who watches over three women a month in her village who are suffering from TB and ensures their recovery. I think of Amani A Ju, a business center and artisan market for women, offering refugees training and opportunities so they can provide a living for their families. I think of the beautiful teacher we saw instructing her students in the middle of the slums, giving the children there a chance for a better life. I think of the potato farming community, tightly knit and working together to provide Kenya with healthy food choices. I think of the district manager for the dairy farm we visited, who leads women in her region, helping them run thriving businesses as well as provide fellow Kenyans with more options for nutrition. And I think of the many leaders and business people on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum who are dedicating their lives to helping their people overcome their suffering—government officials, top leaders in business, doctors, and even people in the entertainment industry.
It would be naive to say that there weren't examples in Kenya where a lack of community resulted in suffering. We heard of conflict. We learned of tribal disputes. We discussed corruption. But what I witnessed was evidence that when a community pulls together and takes care of its own with a focus on bettering the lives of those around them, that the world can move from a place of suffering to a place of overcoming suffering.
What the people of Kenya taught me was to reach out a little more, hold back a little less, be more vulnerable, greet people with a song (literally), laugh and dance and smile often, and be a force for good in others' lives by asking yourself: How are you building community and helping others to overcome their suffering? But don't stop there. Also ask yourself: How are you letting others in to help you overcome your suffering.
In Kenya, people talk openly about the children they lost, about their neighbors who are sick, about people who are starving. They know of each other's needs and they help meet them.
In the U.S., sometimes it feels that our high value on independence leaves us feeling as if we should do everything, well, independently. But following the example of the Kenyans and finding strength in community by not only reaching out to those around us, but letting others serve us as well would go a long way in helping us live in a world full of the overcoming of suffering.
What will you do today to help relieve others' suffering? In turn, what will you do to let others help you?