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My name is Joseph, a Member of Parliament in Kenya. Picture a Maasai village, and one evening, government soldiers come, surround the village and ask each elder to bring one boy to school. That's how I went to school -- pretty much a government guy pointing a gun and told my father, "You have to make a choice." So, I walked very comfortably to this missionary school that was run by an American missionary, and the first thing the American missionary gave me was a candy. I had never in my life ever tasted candy. So I said to myself, with all these hundred other boys, this is where I belong. (Laughter) Stayed when everybody else was dropping out. My family moved; we're nomads. Every time school closed -- it was a boarding school and I was seven -- you had to travel until you find them. Fifty miles, 40 miles, it doesn't matter. You slept in the bush, but you kept going.
And I stayed. I don't know why I stayed, but I stayed. And all of a sudden I passed the national examination, found myself in a very beautiful high school in Kenya. And I finished high school. And just walking, I found a man who gave me a full scholarship to the United States. My mother still lives in a cow-dung hut, none of my brothers are going to school, and this man told me, "Here, go."
So I got a scholarship to St. Lawrence University, Upstate New York; finished that. And then after that I went to Harvard Graduate School; finished that. And then I worked in DC a little bit: I wrote a book for National Geographic and taught history, U.S. history. And every time, I kept going back home listening to the problems of these people -- sick people, people with no water, all this stuff -- and every time I go back to America, I kept thinking about them.
Then one day, an elder gave me a story and this story went like this: long time ago, there was a big war between tribes. And there was this specific tribe that was really afraid of this other Luhya tribe. And every time, they sent scouts out there to make sure no one attacked them. So one day, the scouts came running and told the villagers, "The enemies are coming. Only half an hour away, they'll be here." So people scrambled, took their things and ready to go, move out. But there were two men: one man was blind, one man had no legs -- he was born like that. The leader of the chiefs said, "No, sorry. We can't take you. You'll slow us down. We have to flee our women and children, we have to run." And they were left behind, waiting to die.
But these two people worked something out. The blind man said, "Look, I'm a very strong man but I can't see." The man with no legs says, "I can see as far as the end of the world, but I can't save myself from a cat, or whatever animals." So the blind man went down on his knees, down like this, and told the man with no legs to go over his back, and stood up. The man on top can see, the blind man can walk. And these guys took off, followed the footsteps of the villagers until they found and passed them.
So, this was told to me in a setup of elders. And it's a really poor area. I represent Northern Kenya: the most nomadic, remote areas you can even find. And that man told me, "So, here you are. You've got a good education from America, you have a good life in America; what are you going to do for us? We want you to be our eyes, we'll give you the legs. We'll walk you, you lead us."
So the opportunity came, and I was always thinking about that: "what can I do to help my people? Every time you go to an area where for 43 years of independence, we still don't have basic health facilities. A man has to be transported in a wheelbarrow 20, 30 kilometers for a hospital. No clean drinking water.
So I said, "I'm going to dedicate myself. I'm leaving America. I'm going to run for office." So last July ... I moved from America in June, ran in July election and won. And I came for them, and that's my goal.
And right now I have in place, for the last nine months, a plan that in five years, every nomad will have clean drinking water. We're building dispensaries across that constituency. I'm asking my friends from America to help with bringing nurses or doctors to help us out. I'm trying to improve infrastructure. I'm using the knowledge I received from the United States and from my community to move them forward. I'm trying to develop homegrown solutions to our issues because we realize that people from outside can come and help us, but if we don't help ourselves, there's nothing we can do.
So my plan right now as I continue with introducing students to different fields -- some become doctors, some lawyers -- we want to produce a comprehensive group of people, students, who can come back and help us see a community grow that is in the middle of a huge economic recession.
So as I continue to be a Member of Parliament and as I continue listening to all of you talking about botany, talking about health, talking about democracy, talking about new inventions, I'm hoping that one day in my own little community -- which is 26,000 square kilometers, maybe five times the size of Rhode Island -- with no roads, we'll be able to become a model to help others develop. Thank you very much. (Applause)
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Joseph Lekuton, a member of parliament in Kenya, starts with the story of his remarkable education, then offers a parable of how Africa can grow. His message of hope has never been more relevant.
A teacher, writer and member of the Kenyan parliament, Joseph Lekuton has an inspiring vision for Kenya. Full bio »