It’s difficult not to only see Africa as a poverty-stricken land; the media paints a fairly accurate portrayal of the immense lack of the most basic of human needs. Any charity or aid worker will tell you a variety of horror stories, although nothing quite prepares you for personally seeing the reality of suffering in this world. It would be an understatement to state that the UK is better off. Most of us have a vague idea of the economic imbalances in this world, and of the need some countries have for aid.

However, my experience volunteering in Nairobi, Kenya, left me considering an area where Kenya surpasses England: their attitudes and perception. At the age of 16 I joined a group of aid volunteers to raise money for the education of Kenyan children, eventually we visited Nairobi, to extend our Aid work. Most volunteer work in third world countries is, as expected, emotionally shocking. Even though it was a relatively shielded trip due to my young age; my eyes were opened. I expected to come away feeling distraught at the amount of suffering shown to me, yet to my surprise, I instead came away pitying England.

I’ll start by painting you a picture. Some of the schools we visited were akin to derelict buildings, broken glass littered the floors where barefoot children walked through. Many children only had the one meal a day, which their school provided, and most would never proceed past their primary education. Girls as young as nine left school to become wives and mothers, and some children left to earn food for their families. The amount of adults I met who faced starvation or had lost family members to a variety of causes, was astonishing.  We provided a large number of children, the most disadvantaged of the school, with enough food to last them and their families a month, as they could hardly achieve that. These children were scared to leave the school gates and go home, fearing their food would be stolen. Even these examples hardly scratch the surface.

The World Happiness report of 2013 rated the United Kingdom 22, and Kenya 123. Kenya’s position is hardly surprising and was severely lowered by elements of a seemingly economic nature.  Yet on closer scrutiny of the report, in the section entitled: ‘base country’, Kenya was on par, even slightly higher than the UK.  Apart from these small variations, we can clearly see a huge difference between the two, and it would be redundant to argue otherwise. However, how much of this is to be expected when a large proportion of the country faces poverty or worse? The fact that Kenya ranked so low, whilst facing these injustices, meant that, upon reflection, the positive attitudes I encountered when volunteering are all the more uplifting. Could the UK rise from 22nd with a slight change of attitude?

Every person I met, from the children through to the adults, had a story. No stories were in any way fortunate yet the people that these stories belonged to used them to fuel the rest of their lives. They were grateful for what they had; who they were, and always remembered that it could be worse. They kept looking forward, and despite their past pain, they made the best out of each situation. They faced things no human should face, had suffered and lost beyond measure, yet their sense of culture, of community, was inspiring. Of course there will be exceptions to this, but overall, to me, it seemed a huge juxtaposition to the attitudes I’ve seen in England.

Let me ask, how many times do you compare your life with the lives of others? Or brood over something that, upon reconsideration, has no real effect upon your life? How many of us are dissatisfied due to what we don’t have, rather than being grateful for what we do? It’s so easy to lose sight of what we have, whilst looking at what we don’t. This is something that the people of Kenya taught me.  I am not suggesting that there aren’t any viable reasons for the English to feel disheartened, or that everyone acts like this, for each person is different. Both our countries demand a different emotional strain or need, England itself has its fair share of disadvantages and poverty. However, perhaps we should all take a leaf from the Kenyans’ book of positivity and be inspired to remember to appreciate what we have. Life is simply what you make of it.

http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf

http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/world-happiness-report-2013/