African and Asian Mangoes

Nairobits, the organization I am learning from

Mangoes are the same everywhere.

In my 2nd week in Kenya, I was hospitalized at Aga Khan Hospital because of food poisoning when I ate a rotten mango from the supermarket. When I first tasted it, it burned my tongue and tasted spicy. I thought, perhaps that’s just how Kenyan mangoes taste like,  they are different from the mangoes in the US, or mangoes in Singapore. So I ate one more. And another. The next day, after puking and having diarrhea all day, I learnt that mangoes are the same everywhere. If it burns my tongue, it probably is rotten – in Singapore, in the US, in Kenya.

Mangoes are the same everywhere.

It’s been one month in Kenya and I am really loving it here. If all people knew of Africa were from popular images, people may think that Africa is a single story of catastrophe – people dying of poverty and AIDS, people fighting senseless wars. I wish the world could see the Africa I see, the Kenya I see. Coming here, I realize that mangoes are all the same. Kenyans, Singaporeans, Americans are largely similar. Strip down race, class, gender and you have the same goodness of heart, the same passion for life, love and filial piety to parents, steely ambition to succeed, pain and hardships, insecurities, and the same human goodness. We play soccer the same way, we are inquisitive and passionate in similar ways, we love music, we love life.

There is a danger to only hearing one side of the story, and the media largely portrays that side that is misleading. "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue -- it's that they're incomplete. They make one story become the only story." -- TEDTalk Chimamanda Adichie. Here in Kenya, I realize that Kenyans are very creative, ambitious, entrepreneurial, hardworking, have a great drive to succeed, and are go-getters. Kenyans recognized the unique need to provide the supply of services in accessible ways for the normal everyday Kenyans. They are the pioneers of mobile technology in Africa, and this spearheads how technology and social empowerment is being done in the developing world. They created M-Pesa, a mobile technology that within 8 months of its inception in 2007, over US$87 million has been transferred over the system (Brown Uni Prof David Weil's research). Kenya has the iHub, an incubator for technology that is touted to be Africa’s Silicon Valley. Recognizing the unique need to do technology the Kenyan way, Kenyans have designed networking and social change platforms like Ushahidi.com, a website that was initially developed to map incidents of violence and peace efforts in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2007. They have M-Farm, a transparency tool for Kenyan farmers where they SMS to get information about the retail price of their products, and find buyers for their produce. This is especially pertinent since agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy. Instead of using a technology model that works in the developed world, Kenyans have created their own unique technology model via mobile technology that works in Kenya. This is why Kenya has been so successful. And the world is watching and learning.

I am here in Kenya, to work in Nairobits, a NGO that uses Infocomm Technology and multimedia to empower youths from the slums of Kenya. Nairobits selects talented youths from the slums of Kenya and provides them with free technological skills like HTML, CSS, PHP, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash. Nairobits has a 100% success rate in getting employment for all its graduates. What is most amazing about this 12 year old organization is that all the trainers and workers here, save for the general manager and the accountant, are alumni of Nairobits. When all your employees are your alumni, this is when you know that the vision of the organization has succeeded.

I am here to teach 3D animation (my work) to the trainers, but they have been teaching me so much more. African, Asian: We are all mangoes, and underneath the skin,

Mangoes are the same everywhere.