Published April 21st, 2016 at 6:00 AM
This story is part of a series of reports from Johnson County Community College journalism students working with KCPT’s Hale Center for Journalism to report on hopes and obstacles for achieving the American dream. The reporting is part of KCPT’s Re:Dream project.
Grace Manasseh grew up under the sun of eastern Africa in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. Raised by a single mother, she dreamed of studying in America and imitating the success of her brother, who studied here and became a doctor.
Unlike her brother but much like her fellow JCCC student Henry Lubega, who was profiled earlier in this series, Manasseh wishes to return to her home country. She says times have changed very recently, where more young people wish to study abroad and return to their home countries to help make a difference and be a part of what she sees as a “coming up” of Kenya.
“It’s not like the way it was before. … People want to build the future back at home, and so things have changed,” she says.
“There were other students who came [to the U.S.], and they were successful, and so they went back home, and they started building and implementing their ideas they got from here. And so I feel like that’s one of the factors that has contributed to that growth.”
Manasseh wants to study broadcast journalism — one of her grandparents was a radio journalist — and return to her country to use the media as a platform to discourage young girls from marrying early in life. She laughs at the idea of print journalism, simply saying it isn’t for her.
“I feel like if I get an education and go back home, [the young women] will see a positive side to that, and maybe it could change.”
In the rural parts of Kenya, she says, “the girls, they never get to go to school, so when you finish high school, that’s a big deal. … When you live in the rural areas, you get married early.”
Marrying early, she says, keeps young women from reaching their full potential. The rural areas of Kenya are extremely impoverished, with high unemployment rates, so Manasseh says early marriages are part of the culture.
“Every time that I have to go back to my rural areas, and I see girls just whatever, having kids and not even considering going for their dreams, because a majority of them are bright kids, but then because of lack of funds, they don’t go to school,” Manasseh says.
Her mother, despite growing up in a rural village, graduated from high school, found a job in the city and moved to Nairobi. This achievement, Manasseh says, was a very big deal. In Nairobi her mother got a good job but still married very early. Manasseh’s parents separated, so she was raised only by her mother. Manasseh’s mother worked hard to put her through private school in the city.
Manasseh speaks vaguely of a time she calls “before,” which for her refers to a time when young Kenyans had no hope for their country. If you lived “before,” you left the country to study, become whatever you could be and never looked back, so your children could live a better life. This was the goal of her brother, who is 18 years older and stayed in America after becoming a doctor.
But now, she says, the goal of many young Africans is to study abroad and then return to change their country for the better.
Before, young women had little choice but to marry early, and most wouldn’t get to go to high school.
Meanwhile, growing into adulthood is the time Manasseh considers to be the “after”: a time when young Kenyans have hope for their country. The “after,” she says, is a much better time than her mother had and has allowed her to pursue her dreams. Now that she is studying in America like her brother, her dream is to return to Kenya and be an inspiration to the young girls in the rural villages.
“So I feel like if I get an education and go back home, [the young women] will see a positive side to that, and maybe it could change,” Manasseh says.
Manasseh was inspired to study in the United States by her brother’s studies in the United States.
“The fact that he beat all the odds,” she says, “he came here, studied and was able to accomplish his dreams.” It shows that “with hard work, I will also be able to get to where I want to be.”
When she completes her studies here, Manasseh plans to inspire young Kenyan women to live to their full potential and to be a part of the coming up of her home country.
“I want to go back home and just build my own legacy there.”
Join KCPT and Re:Dream Thursday, April 21, at 5 p.m. for a live discussion about opportunities and obstacles in achieving the American dream. Check out more stories about the American dream at KCPT’s Re:Dream project.