Have you noticed that when you visit people after being away for a long time, the first thing they ask you is, “Na umetuletea nini?” (“What have you brought us?”)

Some are even bold enough to say things like, “Si ushare hizo pesa”. (“Why don’t you share the money.”).

Or maybe you get told, “Wacha uchoyo. Share hizo doo za tao/ng’ambo.” (“Don’t be stingy. Share the money from town/abroad”).

But, the one that kills me is when people tell me that I should saidia (help) them. They believe that I come from a ‘better-off’ place than them.

When this happens, the village in my head ends up holding a full council meeting…with guns cocked at the person talking to me!

The msaada mentality

To tell the truth, I’m pretty tired of hearing the word msaada (help/aid) and its relatives nisaidie (help me) and tusaidie (help us).

Every time I watch the news, go on social media, or read newspapers, there’s someone or a community asking for aid or ask for a harambee (fund-raising).

When I sit with a group of people, most times, someone hands out a donation card for people to fill in their pledges. It’s done so smoothly and publicly that you end up filling in a pledge (even if you’re broke) out of embarrassment.

As a nation, we have grossly misused the spirit of harambee, which is one of the cornerstones of our society, and moved it from togetherness into fund-raising. Harambee has now become msaada.

In the past, we used harambee to help overcome negative occurrences in people’s lives or in communities or to build something that would help the community.

We raised money in harambees to help victims of natural disasters such as floods, famine, accidents, and serious medical issues. In the recent past, we’ve used it to help victims of acts of terror. We also used to and still come together to build schools, hospitals, roads, etc.

I have no problem helping out with such harambees. Each provides a solution that goes beyond the person or community being helped.

With time, people started using harambees to raise money for personal use. This includes extravagant weddings, study abroad, have parties such as itegas (welcoming a new child into the family) or graduation ceremonies and elaborate funerals. Even churches have not escaped the fund-raising mania.

A complaining nation?

It’s no wonder that the harambee spirit has now turned into requests for msaada. And it’s no wonder that when people come together, the main discussion topics are complaints about how poorly money is being used.

Complaints include:

  • what the government is not doing for the people.
  • the worsening economy.
  • how terrible business is.
  • corruption.
  • money guzzling politicians.
  • different tribal stuff (we’re very good at this).
  • not being appreciated or paid enough by employers.
  • being taken advantage of by friends, family, community, religious institutions.
  • …lots of complaints.

We’ve become a complaining nation and need to get out of this habit fast. As complainers, rarely do we want to work on solutions. We want other people or something outside of us to help us make changes in our lives and in our community.

Tunataka tusaidiwe (We want to be helped). No one wants to try and work on a solution to the challenge.

An unusual challenge from an unlikely source

Some years ago, the former President of Kenya, Hon. Mwai Kibaki made a statement that rocked the nation. He asked something to the effect, “Unataka serikali ikusaidie. Wewe, umesaidia serikali vipi?” (“You want the government to help you. How have you helped the government?”).

I’m not surprised that President Kibaki got tired of hearing msaada requests and threw the challenge back to the people. We laughed when he made this statement and have quoted him since then. Most of us never realized the profound truth and challenge in his statement.

I’ve lived and worked in different locations in Kenya. Since I was working for international NGOs, I got a lot of requests for us, the local employees, to request the NGOs to bring msaada to the community. Local staff were seen as a privileged bridge between the community and the international staff.

Everywhere I worked, I saw opportunities for the community to make money. Looking around, I saw their Acres of Diamonds to quote Russell Conwell. The few times that I shared my observations on how the community could create wealth from local resources, I got the same response, “Tell your organisation to give us msaada to start the project”.

Finally, I gave up voicing my observations and just listened as people asked for msaada.

Sadly, some of those community resources are now being exploited by people who saw the opportunities and took advantage of the illiterate and impoverished communities. That, however, is a rant for another day.

[Tweet “When was the last time you looked at a problem in your community with the aim of coming up with a solution?”]

A new way of looking at things

You may be wondering, “So how does this relate to me as a professional or businesswoman?”

I’ll respond to this with a question…

…When was the last time you looked at a problem in your home, relationship, workplace, business, community, etc. with the aim of coming up with a solution?

It’s easy to get bogged down with problems because as women, we generally have to prove ourselves in the workplace and society. Sometimes, we have to work harder than our male counterparts to gain recognition.

Married women and working mothers have an extra duty of creating a balance between their families and other roles they carry at work and in society.

This is overwhelming and it’s easy to just focus on all that is afflicting us, our families, organisations/businesses, and immediate community. It’s also easy to expect that someone else will come and help us out or that we will somehow get sorted out.

We talk about our problems with our friends, colleagues, in our chamas (women’s groups), families…everywhere… and rarely come up with solutions. We complain about being taken advantage of by the people around us and do nothing about it.

Today, I ask you to think differently. I ask that you start looking at the challenges in your life, career, business, community, and country, and be the one seeking for solutions.

A different way of reacting to challenges

I believe that we have 3 options when faced with a challenge:

  1. Accept the situation and live with it (no more complaining or blaming others).
  2. Stay and fight for change from within the situation (seek for solutions).
  3. Walk away from the situation (learn your lessons and move on).

Option 1 will not create immediate change. However, it will give you peace of mind when you stop complaining or blaming others.

Option 2 is a powerful one and also a very painful process because the change you seek must first come from within yourself. The best thing is that this change will be permanent once you achieve it.

Most people would argue that option #3 is the best option. That’s true if you’re able to turn around and share your lessons with other people.

In reality, there are no right or wrong options. These are just choices and whichever you choose is OK.

So next time you’re tempted to complain, blame others, or ask people for an unnecessary harambee, remember these 3 choices.

[Tweet “Are you a beacon of light in someone’s life, even if it’s through the posts you share on social media?”]

Are you creating solutions or making problems worse?

Going back to Hon. Mwai Kibaki’s challenge, “Wewe umesaidia serikali vipi?”

Serikali is made up of you, me and every other Kenyan. Serikali is us, together.

When we complain about things that are not going well and do nothing about it, we become part of the problem.

When we help our children cheat in exams so that we can shine in the community, we are a big part of the problem.

If we’re not creating time to nurture our families or when we abandon our children, we are creating a bigger problem for the future.

Anytime we toa kitu kidogo (bribe) or engage in corruption, we make the problem grow.

When we focus on tribes and communities, we help build fear and insecurity – and we become the problem.

If we continue like this, one day this problem will be so big that it will roll over us like an avalanche!

Becoming solution-oriented

Moving to the community and national level…are you helping make Kenya a great country to live in or not?

What solutions (big or small) can you bring to the table?

How are you using your unique abilities, skills, talents, education, experiences, time, and financial resources to make Kenya better?

Who have you mentored or helped grow?

What role are you playing to uplift the minds or standards of the people around you?

Are you a beacon of light in someone’s life, even if it’s through the posts you share on social media?

As an emerging economy, we need more solution-oriented people. Women, being natural teachers and nurturers, are well placed to make this new way of thinking the norm.

That’s my challenge to you this year. Become solution-oriented using what you have and what you can do.

Let’s think about solutions and work together to move Kenya to the next level.

Over to you…

Today, let’s do something different. We rarely get opportunities to brag publicly so here’s one.
What is one solution you came up with in response to a personal, professional, business or community challenge? A solution that had a positive effect on yourself and the people around you.
Let us know in the Comments below.

(Image credit: Unsplash)

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