The Future of Not Working
The village is poor, even by the standards of rural Kenya. To get there, you follow a power line along a series of unmarked roads. Eventually, that power line connects to the school at the center of town, the sole building with electricity. Homesteads fan out into the hilly bramble, connected by rugged paths.
There is just one working water tap, requiring many local women to gather water from a pit in jerry cans. There is no plumbing, and some families still practice open defecation, lacking the resources to dig a latrine. There aren’t even oxen strong enough to pull a plow, meaning that most farming is still done by hand.
The village is poor enough that it is considered rude to eat in public, which is seen as boasting that you have food.In October, I visited Kennedy Aswan Abagi, the village chief, at his small red-earth home, decorated with posters celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden and the lives of African heroes, including JaKogelo, or “the man from Kogelo,” as locals refer to former President Barack Obama. Kogelo, where Obama’s father was born, is just 20 miles from the village, which lies close to the banks of Lake Victoria. Abagi told me about the day his town’s fate changed. It happened during the summer, when field officers from an American nonprofit called Give Directly paid a visit, making an unbelievable promise:
They wanted to give everyone money, no strings attached. “I asked, ‘Why this village?’ ” Abagi recalled, but he never got a clear answer, or one that made much sense to him.
The villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One villager heard that Give Directly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself.
But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a Give Directly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village’s 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan Give Directly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on: These visitors are from Give Directly. Give Directly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. Give Directly is based in the United States. Give Directly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism. This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless.
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. MLK in Chaos or Community
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