Appreciating African values in the American rat-race

Recently, the Daily Nation had an interesting story about Peninah Njuguna, a Kenyan-American Kiswahili and culture lecturer at South Carolina University, who left the job she had held for six years to become a kindergarten teacher. She has a master’s degree in adult education and agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin, a doctorate in curriculum and institution development from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in early childhood education from the same institution.

“When I quit my university job in 2001 to teach in a kindergarten, many people thought I was crazy. Some professors felt I was wasting my education,” Njuguna says…

…“The American system does not meet the needs of the black community. Parents work very long hours and leave their children at daycare centres. They have very little time for their children. We have no house-helps because we simply cannot afford such a luxury,” says Njuguna, a graduate of business education from the University of Nairobi.

Although she and her husband, Dr Njuguna Nagi, a marriage counsellor and therapist, acquired US citizenship after settling there in 1986, they decided to put their children through the Kenyan secondary education system before they settled in the US. They say this helped the children — Zawadi, Tumaini and Baraka — get a sense of community, “which is lacking in the US”.

“Zawadi”, Njuguna explains, “symbolises the many gifts God has given us Africans. We should exploit these gifts. We should not look so much to the West for help.

“Tumaini,” she continues, “means there is no hopeless situation in mankind, while Baraka represents people’s capability to help one another. Each one of us deserves to be successful. We all deserve to make it in life. Every person can give hope and encourage others to give. Giving is not just about money. We need to restore hope to our people, one person at a time.”

Says Njuguna, a trustee of the Kenya Christian Fellowship in the US, whose aim includes strengthening social culture and race among Kenyans in the US: “Many children in the US are left to video games and television. In fact, they are left to bring themselves up. Fathers have little time for their sons. But they are good dads working to earn a living for their families.”

…migrating to the US or any other developed country is not reason enough for one to discard one’s African values and cultures.

“We have to understand ourselves and our culture. Even the “modern” African woman needs to become an innovator rather than a consumer of Western culture. Usually, women adopt Western culture much faster than men. We have become consumers of Western culture, and this has really messed up families. We have lost our identity. We should not adopt the Western culture so blindly. We cannot raise our daughters when we have lost our identity,” says Njuguna.

Read the whole story here. We’ve had our kids in both places, and I’m happy mine are growing up here.  Let me add a few observations based on a couple things she says—almost in passing. 1.) One of the things I appreciate about Western culture is the increased equality for women; there’s a good reason African “women adopt Western culture faster than men.” 2.) Kids can be just as neglected here, but the community infrastructure compensates for it. My kids can run out our front door at any time of day, have tons of friends to play with, and have enough adults around who can intervene if anyone gets hurt. The irony is, I probably pay less overall attention to my kids here than I might in the states, but their lives our fuller, and our time together is more focused on them 3.) One of the big things that makes raising kids here easier is the ability to hire relatively inexpensive “house help”—someone who can help cook, clean, and watch your kids. This “luxury” depends on significant economic disparity—a workforce desperate enough to work for 25 cents an hour or less. I would hope that our sense of economic justice is working toward eventually creating more equal opportunity—even if it means having to pay more for help or even having to do without that luxury.

Ideally, we would have a good mix of the best of both worlds. Right now, I can’t tell you how often we thank God for being able to raise our children in this multi-cultural African environment; I’m really happy to have them learning African core values. Even in better Western environments, raising young kids can be a lot more of a stressful, individualistic enterprise where you have to do things like schedule “play dates”. I know first hand, I was an at-home dad for four years in Washington, D.C. and in Paris.

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3 thoughts on “Appreciating African values in the American rat-race

  1. There’s so much to learn from this informative article. I profit from your comment as well, as you attempted to briefly balance the two opposing worldviews.

  2. Pauline Jepkemei says:

    For Njuguna,

    Congratulations Njuguna for accepting to be a true African woman and mother for that reason. It is indeed true that children have been left at the mercy of technology and family life is the most endangered species. The moral vacuum experienced in the world can not be filled by none than couragious women and mothers of your type. Keep up the spirit and you might encourage many other women especially African women and mothers to stand up and be the real mothers we knew in the past.

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