I’m a new Asante Africa board member, and when the opportunity arose to accompany Erna Grasz on a visit to Kenya and Tanzania, I figured it would be good to see our work firsthand. The month-long trip left me with many lasting impressions, but the most recurring theme that kept surfacing is how hard everything is in East Africa.
Traveling as foreigners, we had access to decent food, clean water, reliable transport, hotel rooms, and yes, western toilets. But even so, our trip was anything but easy. Very little of the country is paved, so the road trips from one remote area to another were long, hot, and bumpy as hell. Riding with the windows down meant having our faces, lungs and clothes coated with red dirt, while rolling up the windows left us suffocating from the sweltering heat. Upon arrival at a guesthouse, I would find either the toilet seat, hot water knob or water pressure missing. I thought I could reward myself at dinner one night when I saw roast chicken on the menu, but it was so tough, I couldn’t even bite into it. I’m no stranger to Third World travel, nor am I a prima donna. My point is that if our time in East Africa was rough, imagine how difficult life is for the locals who lack our resources.
The only real way out of poverty is education, which is perhaps the greatest challenge for African children. Of those fortunate enough to start Grade 1, only 0.13% continue past high school. With so many undereducated, it’s no wonder Africa has so many problems. For starters, educating just one child eats up roughly half of the average family’s income.
While driving toward the rural schools, I noticed there wasn’t anything around for miles, which means that students must walk tremendous distances to get there. Many schools can’t afford textbooks, so all lessons are absorbed from the chalkboard— difficult thing to do for children who haven’t had a nourishing meal. When students get home, they’re saddled with chores like tending to livestock or fetching water. As you can imagine, these conditions hardly make for a conducive learning environment.
There are countless NGOs working in Africa, making the situation both hopeful and disheartening. What motivation does a government have to improve the quality of life for its people when there are so many outside groups doing it for them? And even if funds were available, corrupt officials are notorious for pocketing that money. I’m generally a positive person, but I’m also a realist and must admit that I became cynical of our efforts at times. With the needs so great, and the challenges so overwhelming, I wondered if we could even make a dent.
That question was answered by Samson Nyongesa, our Kenyan intern and former Asante Africa scholarship recipient, who accompanied us on one of our road trips. A soft spoken and unassuming person, Samson’s story of overcoming hardship is anything but meek. He lost both parents and was sent to live in a refugee camp for several years. But because of his thirst for knowledge, hard work, optimism and help from Asante Africa, he graduated high school in the top 1%. I was moved when I saw Samson inspire several classrooms by sharing his personal story of triumph. Never before had I seen an audience so entranced, grabbing onto his every word as hope for their own futures. Seeing Samson as a beacon of hope for others eased my cynicism. Samson is a success story whose life was transformed through support from Asante Africa; just one of over 23,000 students impacted by our work. If even a handful of them pay the inspiration and encouragement forward, an actual dent could be made.
I recently helped in developing our new tagline, and being a veteran ad man, I have certainly seen my share of empty ones. I can’t say how gratifying it is to be part of an organization that’s making a meaningful contribution to this world by truly doing what it says it’s doing: Educating Children | Transforming Worlds.