It being my first time in New York, the initial title for this ‘reflection blog’ was naturally “Coming to America’ (obviously inspired by the hilarious 1988 Eddie Murphy movie, which I hear has a sequel already). He plays the role of a young man looking to do more for himself and is on a quest to find love, so he ends up travelling all the way from Africa to America to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Many years after my first interaction with it, this experience has evoked the need to find some time to re-watch this film. It is true that there is a secret that people who have traveled the world are ‘in on’. It has been such an eye opening experience, having to interact with different cultures, weather, and even just the feeling of being under a different sky.
This trip has been more than just the typical anxiety of planning and packing. I have learnt so much about love and friendship, sacrifice, patience and kindness. I could list many examples of random instances where complete strangers have been so kind to me, and how much love my family and colleagues have shown me as I worked out the plan to travel to New York. These are things that we sometimes take for granted, not realizing how fortunate we are to have each other.
It has been interesting to see that we have such numerous similarities, just by virtue of being human. There are experiences that I would only need to mention a few specifics about for another human being to completely understand and relate to. This is my fascination with the concept of universal truths. Standing in line while waiting for my visa interview, I met a woman who was applying to witness the birth of her first grandchild. Her story was so touching; I could not fathom the thought of her not getting the opportunity to do so.
I contemplate a lot about the role I have to play in my society. First, to the young people I am constantly interacting with. I am so fortunate to have this exposure, the opportunity to see a world beyond what I am used to. I know that in being human, I struggle to put my faith in things I have not seen. Being in a first world country, seeing a higher level of development, and living with people who are doing great things in their careers at such a young age is so inspiring. I am still so mind-blown by the difference in time zones, being on planes, subways and by the vast knowledge of culture hidden in language. Now more than ever, I truly believe that language is a repository of beliefs and values.
The youth in Africa have so much potential and are increasingly championing great innovation and ingenuity. As the world is making great strides in development, social, political and economic growth, I find myself asking the question, to what end?
Victor Frankl, in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, writes about his experience in a concentration camp during the reign of Hitler. He describes having to survive such inhumane treatment, to a point where he was becoming numb to the death of those around him. He struggled to stay alive, by holding on to hope, and giving hope to fellow prisoners. This narration is proof that we can choose to live by the best parts of us that allow us to exercise freedom for excellence and are driven by a desire for common good.
As we achieve universally set goals, political and economic independence, technological innovation and even great medical discoveries, it is my hope that it will not be at the cost of forgetting who we are as human beings, and the dignity we carry within us. Otherwise, it will all be for nothing.
I am so fortunate to be in this journey of discovery that began through my regional internship in Kenya. I am learning and unlearning and understanding who I am and the responsibility that comes with that knowledge. I am forever grateful to WYA and wholeheartedly welcome young people all over the world to become a member through the World Youth Alliance website. Sign up for internship opportunities in the various regions or the Certified Training Program which is offered online and within the internship.
Written by Cynthia Maingi, the incoming Regional Director for WYA Africa