Does it matter where you were born and raised?

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This is the question that plagues many and in recent times people have begun to answer the question with a hesitant no. Before most people would say that it does not matter, after all, there are people who were born and raised in slums and are now company CEOs and there are children who grew up in wealthy secluded neighbourhoods and barely have anything to show for it.

This article is a personal and honest look at inequality in the world and how in affects not only our generation but future generations. At the end of the article I will make suggestions on how we can work toward better equity (not equality) to ensure that we break the cycles of poverty, inferior education, political under-representation and huge economic disparities that plague our world today.

Back to whether it matters where were born and raised. When we think of inequality most people think of economic inequality. However, economic inequality spills over into other issues such as education, health and life expectancy. I am from Nyanza Province in Kenya; it is currently the poorest province in the country.

A survey shows that if you are born and raised in Nyanza Province your life expectancy shortens by 16 years compares to say a person who is born and raised in Central province in Kenya – which is one of the well off provinces in the country. Studies also show that Nyanza province has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infections (15%) compared to almost 0% infection in the North Eastern Province. Turn the tables and North Eastern Province children are the least likely to go to school while in Central Kenya most children (if not all) are enrolled in Primary School.

So Yes, I present to you that it matters where you were born or raised. Some people will take this to mean that they can never move on in life- but that is not what I want this article to portray. Before I delve into other issues regarding inequality I would like to present the concept of equity.

Equality means everything is the same – thus inequality suggests differentiation. There are arguments that people will never really be equal in all aspects. For example human rights should apply equally to everyone however not everyone in the world will earn as much as the next person or have the same level of education.

There is room for choice, ability and talent; which is acceptable. Equity is impartiality, fairness. It means that everyone gets their fair share of the pie (figuratively) and for equity to be in place then many of the fundamental human rights must be applied equally across the globe. To me, equity means that if I work hard and invest in project then regardless of where I am from I can achieve my goals. Sadly this is not the case in the world today.

In Kenya inequality stems from the colonial times. Right after the colonialists arrived they, the decided to focus on what they called the ‘White Highlands’ for development purposes, with the argument that this would lead to higher returns. The argument is rational however it then bleeds into the present whereby the former White Highlands are still the most developed, have probably the richest Kenyans with better access to healthcare facilities and lower rates of HIV/AIDS infections. Sometimes what this means is that if you were born in North Eastern Province and work hard you may not achieve as much as a person who was born in Central Province. Owning an acre of land in Kisumu is not the same as owning an acre of land in Central Province.

A few more statistics to put into context the glaring head of inequality:

  1. In Central Province there are 20,000 people for every doctor in North Eastern Province there is 1 doctor for every 120,000 people[i]
  2. In Nairobi 44% of people live under the poverty line. However on 8% of people living in Kibera live under the poverty line while 77% of those who live in Makongeni slums live under the poverty line[ii]

So now that we know it matters where you were born and raised- is there anything that we can do to break this cycle? It is easy to think about what the government should do – but then the government is what it is. Given our experience with government implementation there may not be much. My challenge is more on a personal level, what can you and I do to break this cycle? Below are some simple suggestions which I hope you will put into practise:

  1. Mentor someone from a disadvantaged area – sometimes all that a person needs to see the world differently is to find that one person who believes in them. Most people who have broken out of poverty cycles can pin-point a mentor or a hero who inspired them to push through their challenges and become successful
  2. Broaden Children’s view of the world – I came from a middle class family and I learnt about the world from books. By reading I first discovered that there is something called table etiquette and that there are different ways of life i.e. European, American, Chinese and from a young age I became curious about these places and how different these people were from me.
  3. Opportunities – In your lifetime give another person an opportunity that you wish you had been given that would have made your life different. If each person did this it would lessen the challenges that the youth face challenges in achieving goals in life. Give your child that superior education, create a job for that struggling youth- go ahead invest in a person’s business.

In conclusion I’d like to remind everyone that it matters where you were born and raised but it matters more what you do with it. If you know where you are going you will use your past to create a better future for you and those around you. In the words of Lupita Nyong’o “….No matter where you are from your dreams are valid…” but you first, you have to dream.

[i] Heifer International. 2012 Studies hence the emphasis on Provinces and not Counties

[ii] Ibid

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