Dear Melania Trump ... A Kenyan And A Ghanaian Offer Advice For Her Africa Trip
This week, first lady Melania Trump is embarking on a trip to Africa, with stops in Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and Malawi. Details of her itinerary were not initially available, so we turned to two of our contributors, a public health worker who is originally from Ghana and a scientist from Kenya, for their suggestions in the form of a letter to the first lady.
Make Time For Rural Life
Welcome, to beautiful Kenya — the country I call home. Welcome to Africa, my mother continent.
Most likely, you will be taken on a safari — because that is what every visitor does. That is OK. Enjoy it. Africa prides itself on its wildlife. And maybe you'll have time for some of the other typical tourist attractions in Nairobi: the , the bead factory, the Maasai Market.
But I know your trip to Kenya and other African countries is focused on something more. You want to highlight the issues that affect children's well-being. You are set to visit schools and hospitals. Most likely, they will take you to urban schools where all infrastructures are in place. Be different, I insist. Ask them to show you other schools — the rural schools. They may not have the resources of urban schools, even those in poor areas. But these children are bright, smart and very talented. I am living proof. I went to a rural school on the Kenyan coast. Today, I am a scientist.
I highly recommend that you go and visit Shining Hope tuition-free schools, located in the Kibera and Mathare slums, where over 450 students receive free high-quality education, health care, meals and much more. Founded by Kennedy Odede, the school's holistic approach of working with children is indeed a true reflection of your "Be Best" initiative.
It can be tempting to stay in Nairobi. Kenya is a beautiful country. Be sure to visit the Kenyan coast. Go to Shimba Hills National Reserve. Because it is away from the city, it will allow you to see, firsthand, how the people of the Kenyan coast live.
Wherever you go, you'll no doubt see firsthand the many roles African women play in African societies. They are caregivers, entrepreneurs, farmers and scientists. Their activities, both big and small, impact Africa and our global world on a daily basis and contribute to the radiance of the continent and the development of our world.
I can imagine you will meet high-profile women — the very best that Kenya and Africa has produced. I urge you to ask for more. Go meet women in rural communities. You'll soon see that they are just like women everywhere. They want "the best" there can be for their children. From education to health care. They want their children to live to their full potential. Their aspirations, dreams and hopes are just like those of women in America.
I know your visit will be short. But I hope that some of the notes you take away about African people will be used to inform the U.S. president — who made an unfortunate remark about African countries some months ago — that Africans are smart, hardworking, beautiful and, above all, compassionate.
Esther Ngumbi is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She serves as a 2018 Clinton Global Initiative university mentor for agriculture and is a 2015 Food Security New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute. Reach her@EstherNgumbi.
Shop For Souvenirs Without Leaving Your Car
I was born in Ghana in 1988 and lived there until I was 24. I left in 2013 and now live in the U.S. but have strong feelings and ties to my homeland. I'm very pleased that you will be visiting.
Having seen many high-profile diplomats visit Ghana, I know you will most likely visit the capital, Accra, then the slave castles in Elmina and Cape Coast, and finally Mole National Park. While these may be popular locations for international tourists, they do not offer what I consider the true Ghana.
Because of the frequent visits of tourists to these destinations, you will find the comforts of the West: restaurants with air conditioning, canned foods, bottled water and umbrellas. While in Ghana I hope you will be brave enough to seek out experiences that are less influenced by the West.
While you're in Accra, I am sure you will be served fancy meals, but try to make an unplanned stop at the roadside to buy waakye (rice and beans), red red (stewed black-eyed peas with fried plantain) or some kenkey (dumplings) — three common Ghanaian dishes sold by women on the street. Ask the seller to not add pepper or it will be way too spicy for you. If you try any of these foods in the morning, you will not need to eat for the rest of the day. They are very filling — and that's one reason they are popular in communities where there may not be lots to eat.
Instead of stopping in a store for souvenirs, try the street. You will see fully equipped shops on the heads of young men and women — food, clothing, electronics and souvenirs. The vendors run in between heavy traffic selling to people in their cars. So you won't even have to get out of your limousine. I think some woven kente cloth and colorful beaded bracelets and necklaces would make a great keepsake. A handwoven batakari (smock) from the northern part of Ghana will not be a bad gift for your husband.
But don't just shop. Ask the vendors about their day-to-day life and how much profit they make in a day — it's probably about $1 to $2. This may help you understand the forces that propel young men and women from Ghana and other African countries to risk their lives to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea into the Western world as illegal immigrants seeking a better life.
I know how they feel. When I was 19 I was compelled by lack of a job and educational opportunities to move from my village to the city. I started selling tiny bags of water called sachets, yogurt and Coca-Cola on the streets, just like the people you will see. I was trying to raise money for a program that would train me to become a community health worker and also to have money to support my family back in the village. I saw many street sellers like myself get hit by cars. My dream at that point was not different from the dreams of many young men and women with similar circumstances. I wanted to travel to the West for better life opportunities.
Given your concern about maternal and child health I strongly suggest you visit a community health worker in a community-based health planning and services compound. Take 30 minutes to watch a community health worker attend to pregnant women, immunize children against diseases and provide family planning services to young women. Here you will get the chance to see firsthand the impact of American aid on maternal and child health. As a former community health worker, I advise you to specifically look at the limited training and resources the community health workers have. You may notice that the solution is not always money — what is also important is to look at and listen to the people we intend to help.
Depending on which health care facility you visit, it is possible that a sick dog or cat in the developed world receives more quality care than some of the sick people you will see. I think it is fair to ask yourself: Why should there be such disparities on a planet dominated by the human species?
Through this journey you may notice that the wealth of Ghana and Africa is not gold or silver or bauxite or oil but the love of people. Enjoy the smiles from faces that you may think do not have a reason to smile because of the challenges they are going through. But remember, those smiles do not in any way suggest that their lives are perfect or that these people are happy with the life of poverty — but rather even as they strive to escape poverty they have not lost the ability to smile, love and care for others.
George Mwinnyaa, who grew up in Ghana, lives in Baltimore with his wife and two sons and has completed a master's program in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He currently works for the National Institutes of Health.
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