Change Your Perspective on the African Third World


Photo by Aaron Lee

Kenyan students are intellectually and emotionally advanced and are capable of fixing their slum communities with a reformed view of Western help.

Aaron Lee, Sports Editor

Poverty, disease, and inadequate housing are characteristic of Western perceptions of African slums, especially as conditions in parts of the continent receive more attention due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Many groups, most notably the governments of African lesser developed countries (LDCs), have attempted to stray the public eye from the squalor of the slums by creating a more pleasant image to make their states attractive for tourism and business. However, when interacting with residents of some of the largest slums in the world in Nairobi, Kenya this summer, I found that the conditions there conform to, if not exceed, the horrible images we often associate with Africa.

I saw two-year-old children playing in mountains of trash in the streets while others swam in a river of mud and human waste. When I asked their parents how long the community has looked like this and why they do not to fight to improve it, they told me that this is the only way they have ever lived.

I played soccer with little primary school children who lived off of two sets of clothing each year. When I asked them how they could manage living in those two sets of clothes every week, they told me they were lucky because some of their friends had only seen one shirt and one pair of pants in their entire lives.

The West has begun to take notice of these conditions thanks to humanitarian aid organizations, whose touching campaigns have inspired American churches, schools, and families to help the cause of third world countries with direct service. The “Aid for Africa” movement calls for the public to take action for the evolution of African conditions by contributing funds to buy food and goods for children on the continent.

Yet, the people of Kenyan slums have become too dependent on the charitable handouts of others. Many of the efforts for the betterment of the slums only address the immediate worries of lacking resources and have done very little to actually develop the targeted regions economically and diplomatically.

“When Kenyans think of foreigners, they often perceive them as a source of money and goods,” a student from the the Mathare slums in Nairobi, told me as we sat at the desks of his high school.

Another student said, “Some people have even come to believe that it is not their responsibility to earn their living, so they sit around, expecting the government or the ‘whites’ to provide for them.”

This brings up the question: is what we are doing really helping to develop the slums of Africa?

Instead of focusing only on contributing money, food, and supplies, we must make it our priority to educate the African students and provide citizens of African slums with a platform to spread their own opinions and methods of development. These students are the future of Africa, and they must realize they are capable of transforming their countries instead of relying on subsistence from unknown Western donors.

Let’s change the way we approach charity by focusing on the children, the future of Kenya, and how they can influence the growth of their society.