Five years ago my entire perspective on life was turned on its head. It was in the lowliest place on earth that I discovered the truest of riches and the one real hope for humanity. I always tell people that Africa both saved and ruined my life and that I couldn’t have been more thankful for it. Since my first day in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya I became caught between these two worlds. On one side was my normal American life, but in the back of my mind every day since, the kids and the people I had the privilege of meeting were there to haunt, challenge and inspire me. At first, there was a sense of grave responsibility to get their story out because of what I had seen and experienced. But the same demons that stalk the atrocities in Africa are the same of those in America; they just take on a different form – isolation, self absorption and materialism. Which is the greater of the two evils, it’s really hard to say.
Dan Eldon, a photojournalist who was killed in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 said that “Once one has been to these challenging terrible places, they’re always strangely drawn back… because there’s nothing that can compare to seeing the raw reality of the basic need for human survival. It disgusts and inspires.”
When I returned from Africa, my life was in disarray because everything I had once known and thought about the place didn’t even compare. It simply couldn’t be fathomed. Television and pictures were worthless and the immense poverty would haunt me with terror and awe for the rest of my life. Though, in the midst of all of this, it wasn’t some glorious palace or mansion or insanely rich country where I found the greatest of riches, my calling as a journalist and the truth of God, nope, it was holding hands with the most resilient kids I had ever encountered in the poorest place on the earth where their homes and names were not even recorded. It was here that young kids who had nothing, taught me, someone who in comparison had so much, everything about true, rich, abundant life. Never had I experienced anything as humbling.
Through vast fields of hundreds and thousands of muddy, rusted tin roof shacks all clustered together with barely any space in-between, the hot equatorial sun beating down on the valleys reflecting off the rusted roofs and the horrific stench of feces, dead animals, garbage, raw sewage, burning wood and tires resting in an invisible haze over the slums of Nairobi, where five by eight foot mud and trash shelters house entire families. Much like The Hunger Games, the country’s capitol city is surrounded by slums. They are broken up into districts but the millions of people in these slums are not accounted for in any kind of census. In essence they’re not considered human enough to be counted as existing people by the Kenyan government. Nevertheless, so many of these survivors born into this ghastly poverty exude an unforgettable resilience. They actually praise God that they had food and water for that day and think of trying to find ways to help people facing genocide in Sudan, the country just north of them. Yes the poorest of the poor wanting to help those less fortunate than them… seems totally unreal.
Africa was where I reached the point of no return. It was as if I never really lived until I went and it was there that something, the old American me, died. Throughout the years back in the U.S., I carried Africa in my heart and savored moments when I spoke with people who understood. Everywhere I went; there was always Africa in the background, in the undercurrent. And it made everything bittersweet. When the kids in Africa said that they wanted to go to America I couldn’t help but say, “No, you don’t understand, you have so many riches that those people don’t have and could never understand.” Because it is true. And perspective is everything.
Now I have the great chance to return to the place that started it all, the inspiration that called me to journalism and radically changed my life. Together, with the group I’m going with, we’ll help finish building an orphanage for kids who deserve just as much of a future as those in Europe and America. I know times are rough in this age of global economic instability but if you feel it in your heart to donate to this building project and invest in the future of these beautiful children you’re welcome to give to the cause through this PayPal account ‘ReturnToAfrica2012@gmail.com’ You can be assured that everything donated will go toward the supplies needed for these incredible kids.
This is my chance to share the stories of these passionate and talented unaccounted for people who, just like anyone else, deserve their voices heard. The journey begins May 31st and you can follow my blog and Infinity News Network for the latest as this expedition unfolds.