Why I Skate 4 Kenya

This summer, Sauder Africa Initiative team member Leslie Robertson (MBA 2009) and alum Rob Foxall (BCom 2010) traveled to Kenya with a mission to Longboard (Skateboard) from Nairobi to Mombasa in support of Social Entrepreneurship 101. Originally posted to the Skate4Kenya blog, Les Robertson reflects on his motivations and the hope for Kenya.

In a New York Times Op-Ed Article this summer a Kenyan and Kiberan ranted about his displeasure with Slum Tourism and how it will not help the slums. It was great article, but I have my own a opinion. One of the reasons I got involved with the Sauder Africa Inititative is because of a tour I took in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Personally, I have a very hard time with the balance between the ‘success’ I feel volunteering with Social Entrepreneurship 101 and what is really being accomplished. One day, as I push my longboard up-hill preparing for Skate4Kenya I hit a mental wall and just stopped pushing. HOW AM I HELPING! I have started to despise slum tourism for tourism sake, but much like training entrepreneurs, I wonder, is it the 2% that survive and create healthy businesses that I focus on, or the 98% that fail? I decided I’m voting for the 2% and so I started pushing again. What else can I do?

In a very frank conversation with my Kenyan students on our last day of class, I scolded a number of them for showing up late to present their business plans. Of course their response was, ‘sorry’. I wouldn’t accept, ‘don’t say sorry to me, say sorry to yourself,’ I told them. ‘You have this opportunity, this chance to help yourself, a way to grow and you didn’t take it seriously.’

I have to believe that all is not hopeless, that the slum is all there is, the only way. I can’t blame it strictly on the government and corruption and ‘circumstance’ because I have watched people with incredible opportunity chose to waste it – in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and in Kibera. Mental illness, addiction, abuse, etc. aside, when given opportunity how can one not attack it and seize it! I guess only 2% will, but I believe in what they are creating for themselves and for Kenya and ultimately, this is why I pushed a longboard across the country: for hope, for change, and to create opportunity.

Every Kenyan I talked to called me a crazy Mzungu and asked me if I knew how far it was from Nairobi to Mombasa. They told me there are just as many wild men as wild animals I would pass that could harm me. And they told me the road is rough and not made for rolling on. I might be a white foreigner, but I am not an aimless wanderer. Like many of our young, hopeful entrepreneurs, maybe we didn’t fully know what we were getting ourselves into. Either way, together we sweat, got hurt, got frustrated, bled, puked, and cried, but we had a goal and we did make it to Mombasa!

Slum tourists or not – if you will it and you pursue it relentlessly, you can overcome it. You can hate the tourists, but you can also create opportunity and change. I do not come from a nuclear or wealthy family. I have also experienced addiction and substance abuse first hand in my family and work. But I can sure say, whether opportunity knocks or not, I will create it and I will make the most out of it for the future. I feel very lucky to have been exposed to so many opportunities, and because of them (Slum Tours included!) I go to Kenya with SE101, and now Skate4Kenya, to do what I can to help create these opportunities for the slum and the country.

Carpe Diem is a logical fallacy. Sieze the opportunity.

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