It’s no news that China has cemented its relationship with Africa. Chinese nationals have since time immemorial travelled to the continent to invest and establish new contacts but this relationship has mostly been characterised by cooperation on an intergovernmental level. This trend is changing fast as today’s world is dominated by youth. In this episode of Talk Africa, we explore how an increasing population of Chinese youth on the continent is shaking off that steep perception of older generations that they are to be taken for granted. We talk to three Chinese youth who have volunteered their time and services to help societies in Kenya, Africa.
Luo Yating, a project manager of Sino-Africa Centre Of Excellence;
Yuan Zili, volunteer teacher at Confucius Institute of The University of Nairobi ;
Huang Zhaoyi (Joany), co-founder of Care for All Kids.
As a project manager, Yating helps facilitate China-Africa investments. She feels she’s shaping a discourse in her own way by generating Africa’s unexplored data while running exchange programmes hoping the experiences would change held perceptions. Yuan, a Chinese teacher, believes Africa chose him and it makes him proud to see students that couldn’t speak a single word before speak fluent Chinese. Joany says she derives satisfaction by helping equip education facilities which eventually empower students.
While Yuan’s family was for the idea of moving to Africa, Yating had to convince her parents that their perception of Africa was wrong and that it was a safe place to work. Yating was first impressed by the innovative and the enterprising culture she found while Yuan was pleased that his expectations of a beautiful scenic country were fulfilled.
Yating’s family name means royalty in Chinese but in Kenya it’s the name of a famous lakeside tribe called Luo from which the former prime minister and current official leader of opposition Raila Odinga comes from. And so it’s common for her to be asked if she changed her name because she was coming to Kenya which she would willingly explain.
The panel agrees the hospitality of the local people is one thing that stands out most. And as Yating points out most conversations are not dominated by China-Africa issues but social issues like in her case ladies issues. For Joany the teamwork nature of her work accelerates bonding and she says she regards her Kenyan team members as actual family while Yuan is really amazed by the effort his students put into learning Chinese. Interaction with Kenyans follows a similar process path for the three with them being met with typical expectations like knowing kung fu, China’s trademark form of martial arts but later it gets more friendly and warm.
In the second part of this episode on Chinese youth in Africa, the panel compares the older Chinese generations’ motives for coming to Africa versus the young and it’s clear the older generations’ main focus was investment while the young are interested in finding new experiences. The flow of information fuelled by the internet and mainstream media interventions has cleared many traditional impressions in Africa and may probably explain young Chinese people’s growing population in Africa. Joany says understanding is the main thing that arises from the interaction and finds the slow but steady ‘hakuna matata’ attitude of Kenyans really effective.
And as with normal societies, interactions are moderated by food and for Yuan, who takes cooking as a hobby, he takes pleasure in inviting his students for cookouts to share Chinese and Kenyan cuisines. He enjoys ‘chapati’, a wheat flour Kenyan delicacy, when he is not cooking. And with their families curious about their stay in Africa, the three usually find themselves feeding an appetite of ever curious friends and family and in the process they help change perceptions about Africa. Yating even goes an extra mile and writes about random topics like temporary arts and education to show Africa has more to offer than just wildlife. They all agree that being in Africa has contributed to their growth in one way or another while at the same time broadening their perspective of the world to embrace diversity.
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