Another Way for Africa

Socially Responsible Safaris
Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Safaris

Guest Post by Heidi Wright

Sometimes I just want to retire and bake cookies. I really think I’d be be happy doing that. But my heart is still in Africa and God has given me so many experiences that I can’t keep to myself.

My husband and I moved to a remote village in Uganda when I was 25. I was young, naïve, and ready to change Africa. For three years we lived in a village with no running water, no electricity, and no other Internationals.

My first month there I thought I would teach the women in the village to speak English, because obviously everyone wants to learn English, right?  They all started laughing at the first sentence out of my mouth and I thought to myself, Who do I think I am? Over the years I actually developed relationships with these women. We nursed our babies together. We pumped water at the well together. We experienced new life together—and the sadness of life lost too soon.

Life there was hard. Experiencing life, motherhood and womanhood in that village was an experience that shaped me and my view of Africa significantly.

After three years we moved back to the states for six years before moving to Nairobi, Kenya. As expats in Nairobi we lived the life opposite of village life and met entirely new groups of people. We had a gardener, twenty-four hour security guards, housekeepers, and our kids went to an international school.

In that time we got to know our staff and their families, I saw how hard they work and learned their views on political happenings. I learned to see things from their point of view—where guards are working from 6am to 6pm and are happy to have that job. They don’t want people to give them money, they want jobs, they want investment in their country, they want a way to take care of their kids.

Those two drastically different lives have given us a new perspective of Africa from when we first moved there. We got to know people and live life with people on all levels—from women in poor villages to expats. Those real encounters moved me from thinking I can go to Africa and save them, to a more authentic, relationship-based view. They gave me a new heart for engaging, learning and contributing.

I see the huge potential of people: educated, empowered, passionate and actively engaged in their country.

There is so much to learn about a country and its people. If we start from a position of learning, we are in a much better, more authentic, nuanced and informed position. Our lives become focused on real people rather than quick-fixes. Through my experiences I’ve discovered local businesses that truly make a difference; businesses that provide sustainable employment, responsible development, and promote culture. More and more, this is one area where we feel called to engage.

For example, Amani Ya Juu is a great fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberi. They emphasize ethical business practices and harmonious relationships among various people groups and religions. Their products create sustainable incomes for women to help support their families.

Another great way to invest in Africa is through Socially Responsible Safaris. Tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of the global economy and ecotourism, when done well and responsibly, can have a significant positive impact on a country. Socially Responsible Safaris bring positive economic benefits to local communities, involve environmentally sensitive accommodations, off-set carbon emissions, and generate meaningful relationships with host communities, schools and orphanages along the route.

Socially Responsible Safaris allows visitors to get a small glimpse of many aspects of Africa – poor people and wealthy people, incredible natural wonders and beautiful culture. These are the experiences that teach us we don’t go to Africa to fix things, but to learn how to engage with what is already going on there.

Americans often feel like we have to start our own organizations on our own terms, but there are already so many good things going on.

I don’t live in Africa anymore but I recently took a group of women to Kenya and Ethiopia to share my experiences with them. I wanted to take people who wouldn’t go on their own, to go on more than a tour and more than a mission trip. We visited women’s projects, prayer groups, sewing groups, and microfinance groups. Women have a unique ability to relate to each other even when they have diverse backgrounds and everyone came back with a new perspective and new experiences.

This type of experience is what I feel like I can offer. I can show people the country, make connections, facilitate a brief education, help them learn what they can do, and give them handles for deepening their engagement.

As much as I want to stay home and bake cookies, I know I’m called to more than that right now. For now I want to help lead people toward another way of engaging with Africa.

Heidi Wright



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