The secret? My parents loved me until they died. And before that, I had watched as they both rose from modest rural African backgrounds and raced up the social latter all the way to the very top. I inherited love and pride, the deadliest combination against hardship. I lived an American dream in Africa. I got the best of both worlds.
As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, I made a humanitarian trip with my wife, Sofia, to Malawi in 2005. In the rural parts of Malawi, the children we met were happy. They were loved and proud. Typically, African parents love their children until they die, as did mine, and up to a certain age, in rural Africa, all you need is love to stay proud. They couldn't possibly need an Xbox since they did not know of it, and so their needs were in total agreement with their environment. Their pride was preserved.
Unfortunately, urban exodus is a growing modern phenomenon in Africa. Eventually, these children leave their villages for the big cities where television and the Internet expose them to conveniently fairy-like images of "the West." Their needs are brought into a context so foreign to Africa that they seem out of reach. And nothing takes a worse toll on your pride than the idea that your needs are unattainable.
What African children need is help for their parents. The kind of help that has Africa's economic and cultural independence as a goal. The kind of help that considers and respects Africa's unique values, history and mentality. Africa's children just need their pride preserved to keep the love alive. Whereas sometimes I feel western children need a little more love to keep the pride alive. In this respect, I would say children in Africa and America complete each other. I say they are equals. And so there is no pity to be felt for the children of Africa, for they are loved. They just need just need help, as we all do.
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