It’s strange to me that, although I don’t remember ever being under the impression that Africa was actually one country, there was a time in my life where I only had one mental image of an African, African culture, and African issues. As if the whole continent shared everything except their nationality.
The other day, as I drove a few of my clients to work, I looked around the car. Among them, there were three different African countries represented: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Eritrea.
If I didn’t know them and you asked me which were from each of the three countries, I could tell you where they were from just by looking at them. Eritreans don’t look like Somalians, Somalians don’t look like the Congolese, and the Congolese don’t look like Eritreans. I could tell you that while most African refugees speak multiple languages, my Congolese were conversing in Swahili, the Eritreans in Tigrinya, and the Somalians in Somali, and that they did not know each others’ mother tongues. Their mannerisms, expressions, and tones are different. I could tell you the Congolese are almost all Christians. The Somalians, Muslims. And the Eritreans, split about 50/50 between Christians and Muslims. Their cultures, customs, food, and traditions are not the same; even among ethnic groups within countries these things vary. I could tell you all of them had experienced multiple human rights violations, but that the conflicts and persecution that caused them to flee as refugees from their countries were unique to those regions and have impacted them differently.
My African clients from these countries are so different, I often forget they are even from the same continent.
I think as humans we have something in us that groans for a better world. I don’t think it’s by chance.Some of us are even bold enough to want to save it. Which is awesome. I don’t think that’s a coincidence either. I think we are all called to play a roll in the renewal, the rebuilding, the redemption of our world. While the reality of the evil on our planet gets me down sometimes, the reality of all the dreamers, fighters, truth-speakers, and justice seekers on the same planet gives me great hope.
We have to be careful, though, whenever we set out to change the world. As Americans, many of us have an ignorance about places that aren’t the U.S., because, generally, we’ve never been educated on the world–in school or by our own initiative. In religious and secular circles, I see a lot of well-meaning but vague, and, in a sense, reckless movements or organizations to “save Africa.” What does that even mean? Which of the 54 unique African countries are you talking about? Which of the thousands of ethnic groups? Which of the many conflicts? Are you aware that not all of Africa is experiencing war, starvation or AIDS? Tell me, how do you expect to save, or responsibly change, a world you know nothing about? I ask, not because I need to know, but because YOU need to know.
You’ve been given the desire to change the world, my friend! But that desire is a tiny seed. In order to grow into something healthy and substantial, in order to produce a harvest, it must be watered and fed by knowledge, first-hand experience, humility, wisdom, and more knowledge. This will not happen overnight. And it will not happen haphazardly. It will take opening a new tabs (or 500, if you’re like me) in your browser and doing some research on the world around you. It will require making the first move or two to create connections with people from around the world with the same dream who know things and have experiences you don’t. It will take the initiative to learn, listen, and learn some more. If you don’t take the time to do this, you will not only be ineffective, but you could actually be doing more damage than you think. Also, it’s insulting to the people you are trying to help.
So, if you’re interested in Africa, here are some links to a few websites where you can learn a little more about different African countries and cultures, and specifically about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Eritrea, whose people are becoming dearer and dearer to my heart…
(PS. This concept applies to other countries/continents, as well as to other religions, political groups, races, economic classes, populations, etc. within your own country.)
http://www.our-africa.org/ – Children from African countries actually helped film and write their own country profiles and videos themselves. Profiles aren’t complete for all the countries yet.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/default.stm – Country Profiles
The Democratic Republic of the Congo: