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READER'S DISCRETION ADVISED: INTO THE FUTURE AND THE DETTOL SOAP BILLBOARD

I had a recording yesterday for out TV programme and what happened left me surprised. Since I began working with children I have noticed that boys are somewhat laid back, shy and in most cases seem not to know what they want out of life. This reminds me about this Dettol Soap billboard along our major roads in Nairobi City. It is a photo of an empowered woman having her arms around her smiling son. Touchy, isn't it?

I like the picture and the image it conjures. It is little wonder that they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. But it takes words to say the above! The thing is: I like the picture and the image it conjures. The message the picture passes out (according to me, by the way) is that the woman is telling her son that she is ready to do anything to ensure he has a bright future. She is also telling her to respect women because they matter in the society. She is further telling him that she is empowered, free, young, gifted and independent. All these are very good lessons.

But there is one thing she is telling her son that unsettles me. She is telling her son that she doesn't need a man to do all this. She telling her son that she would rather he clings onto the perfect image of anon-existent father instead of having one who is not perfect. And that is where I think we, as the contemporary African society, are losing the point. I don't know just how come our TV adverts are excluding the man. I don't know. But the thing is, they make it look like a happy family doesn't include the man in the equation. The few roadside billboards I see around is of a man measuring his biceps for a milk product.

I have been putting my ears to the ground and the things I hear at times scare me. Young women are focused on getting whatever they want, at whatever cost without ever giving twenty-five cents worth of a care. They are after making loads of money (which is a good thing), buy a house (also a good thing), have a nice car (another good thing) and get a man with good genes father their child by all means even if it means buying the services of a sperm donor (which is a bad thing). For at the end of the day, a child needs a father figure.

I am not trying to say that most men would score 90% where fatherhood and bringing up children is concerned. I am just saying that the many children I meet long for a fatherly figure that can tell them, "son, everything will be alright. Son, I love you, I care and want you to be a responsible man!"

There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to bring up a child. Looking at our urban and even rural set ups, this is no longer the case. Everyone is minding their own business. Everyone wants their child to have the best even if it means taking food from another parent's table. Everyone wants their daughter to have the best while they ignore their neighbour's son. And guess what, the same ignored son will in turn prey (I didn't say pray) on the daughter.

Just after the 2008 post election violence I had the priviledge of meeting Lillian and her mother. They had been displaced by the violence and having moved to an estate in Nairobi their life turned upside down. At the time I was meeting them, Lillian was in Class 8, waiting to sit for her KCPE. The other would spent the day doing laundry for people who didn't care about her as a person. She washed their children's clothes while her child almost went naked. She would come home in the evening, buy food and wait for her daughter to come from school. In the evening, as the mother cooked in the darkness so they could save their little kerosene inside their tin lamp, Lillian would go outside to read with the aid of the towering security light in the estate. The daughter of the her landlady who had sublet them the tin shack they called home, would pass her outside and go and read inside their well lit house.

I was introduced to Lillian w=and her mother in the hope that I would do a story on her for our TV programme. But Lillian asked me not to. All she wanted was to lead a normal life. On her wall she had a picture she had drawn of Wangari Maathai, whom she wanted to meet and emulate. Lillian was convinced she was going to have a better life after we met. Lillian is now in high school and she is having a song in her life.

Now let us shift our attention to the children I was working with.

I had given the children two discussion topics. By the time I was ready for the shoot three days later, the boys had vanished and the girls were shaking in fear. I noticed the children have a low self esteem. When this happens I normally forget I am a TV producer and I start doing other things to make the children feel at home, make them realize they are not here as a result of a mistake, make them know no one write a letter to be born poor in a slum, to be born rich in a suburb, to be born black in Africa or white elsewhere. I notice their eyes light up when they are reminded that its ordinary people who do extraordinary things. A lot of these children belong to single mothers who (for reasons beyond their own control) don't have positive things to say about men. This conveys a message of despair to the boys, that they are good for nothing monsters. They buy a toy gun for the boy and give the girl a doll to play with. In adulthood the girl moves out of the slum to a better life while the boy becomes a gangster who in turn discovers he can make money by donating to the sperm bank.

Kenyan parents ought to open their eyes and start acting right. We should stop waiting for the government to act right. Every time they come up with policies they are never for our own good. They decide to change the education system, the road network and housing plans without seeking for our opinion and in disregard to our loses. It is high time we went the village and the ushamba way by making sure that we become the village that brings up a child. If only we can start thinking of making the other person's burden light instead of wanting to tell them how bad our own situation is. Only then will the ordinary people coming and going out of lives, start doing extraordinary things. Take time today and make someone's burden light. Have a good day and a song in your life!

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