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Kenyans living abroad alive to changing face of the Diaspora

By Chris Wamalwa | June 16th 2013

By Chris Wamalwa

On Saturday, June 1, I spent the best part of the evening with Kenyan residents of Allentown, and the greater Lehigh Valley County in the sprawling Keystone state of Pennsylvania.

This was during their second annual family day- a day when Kenyans living in Allentown and its environs (Bethlehem, Jerusalem) come together to share not just a meal as Kenyans living away from home, but also to celebrate milestones in their lives.

It is not far fetched to say that the Kenyan Diaspora in the US just like their counterparts in other parts of the world face challenges unique to themselves.

A lot has been written and said about the cultural shocks that come with a new environment. These changes have at times resulted in very unpleasant consequences as some people unable to cope with the changes have taken the easy way out.

Cases of domestic violence, drug abuse and suicides have increased within the Kenyan community abroad especially in the US.

Most of these have been attributed to stresses associated with environmental changes.

 It is therefore praiseworthy that the Allentown Kenyan community has come together to create an organization- Kenya Community in North East (KCNE) under the chairmanship of Mr Juma to specifically deal with such challenges as they come.

 Personally, it was nice to finally meet the large Odotte family that spans Pennsylvania and New Jersey and catch up with my old friend, Ja Nyakach Benbow, an inspiring community leader in his own right.

Last weekend, I joined the Kenyan community in Baltimore, Maryland as they celebrated Madaraka Day that coincided with Kenya’s Silver Jubilee festivities that are planned within the Kenyan community around the US. Again, just like in Allentown, I was privileged to witness the meticulous organisation and hard work of community leaders like Thomas Mwaura Karanja and Julie Weche.

On the two occasions, as I was driving home well past midnight, it occurred to me that something within the Kenyan Diaspora community had changed.

I had noticed that the level of participation by Kenyans in the two-community event had increased to the point I had never seen in the ten years I’ve lived in the US. Many Kenyans, especially those based here will agree with me that it is very hard to bring together 500 Kenyans abroad around an issue of common interest unless that issue is either a funeral service or a wedding.

I suppose people attend funerals events because of the sense of their immortality. I guess they instinctively know that they would not be able to burry yourself when the bells toll for them. I know most attend weddings because of free food and drinks.

The Allentown community easily pulled a crowd of 500-plus at their two events- at the park and later in the evening during the Madaraka party. And most of them were paid up members. In Baltimore, the crowd was so big the management of the venue panicked and almost called in the fire martial.

 In fact, I am told if it weren’t for the presence of Ambassador Elkanah Odembo and Senator Mutahi Kagwe, the cops would have been called in. Kenyans filled up the main hall, spilled over and occupied any space available including the parking lot. For me, these two events speak of a community that has come of age- a community that has realised the importance of banding together.

The potential for growth and development for such a community is something I can proudly write home about.



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