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Escaping Poverty in Kenya and Baltimore

Editor's note: Reagan will be off next week. Her next column will appear on Wednesday, May 27.

Making Sense by Michael Reagan

Books and pencils, not money.

That's how you truly escape poverty.

American liberals still don't understand that simple concept, but millions of poor people living in the sprawling slums of Nairobi do.

They know it's much better to be given an education instead of a handout.

I've seen how the urban poor think in Kenya. I've been to Nairobi with my wife Colleen, who is a travel agent.

When she takes 24 wealthy clients to Kenya for a safari, she always makes it a point to take them to a remarkable private school in the middle of Nairobi's slums.

The school has been created by a luxury safari company from England for kids whose families can't afford the high costs of attending Kenya's "free" public schools.

The school is administered by AmericaShare, the nonprofit arm of Micato Safaris, which pays for the education of one child for every safari it sells. In 25 years, Micato has paid for the education of thousands of poor Kenyan kids.

When my wife takes her First World tourists into the slums in their Land Rovers, they are usually shocked, appalled or scared half to death.

They think they already knew what urban poverty looked like because they had seen the bad parts of Baltimore, Chicago or Los Angeles, where being a poor person means not having an iPhone 6 Plus.

But in Nairobi they were seeing real Third World poverty on a massive scale.

Four million destitute people from Kenya and the surrounding countries are packed into Nairobi's crowded slums. About 800,000 are in the neighborhood called Mukuru.

When I went there on one of my wife's trip's about three years ago, I was amazed and deeply affected by the poverty I saw. No one with a heart could not be.

Squalid living conditions, malnutrition, sickness and disease, children who should be in school combing through garbage dumps — that's the kind of poverty there is in Nairobi.

You can't see the government corruption and incompetence that created and perpetuates Kenya's mass poverty, but they're always present too.

When an American liberal sees how bad the poverty is in Nairobi, he feels sorry for the poor people and wants to hand them money — usually someone else's.

But I noticed something. The people I met in Mukuru were smarter than American liberals when it came to helping poor kids.

Those in Nairobi who asked us for our help said, "Please don't give us money. That will just keep us living here. Give us books and an education. That's the way we can get out of this slum."

The AmericaShare school is equally impressive. The kids wear uniforms. They're taught English. Why English? Because it's the language of success.

Some of the kids walk 3 kilometers through the slum to get to school — which is probably not as dangerous as doing it in the United States.

The kids at the AmericaShare school are dirt poor or they wouldn't be there. But they're not mad at society.

They're not killing each other. They don't see themselves as victims of a bad system of government, though in fact that's exactly what they are.

Somehow those lucky school kids and their parents understand the value and the power of pencils and books.

They know that getting an education will change their lives and allow them to lift themselves out of poverty forever. And they know it's up to them to earn it.

In the United States, we have people in power who still think the best way to help the inner-city poor is to throw even more government dollars into social welfare programs.

We've spent upwards of $22 trillion over the last 50 years on the War on Poverty, most of which went for the salaries of the bureaucrats and social workers who fought it.

All that money didn't end poverty in America. It just created a permanent entitlement class who, unlike the poor of Nairobi, will never learn why pencils and books are more important than handouts.


Copyright© 2015 Michael Reagan. Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution" (St. Martin's Press). He is the founder of the email service and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at and Send comments to Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.

Mike's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. For info on using columns contact Sales at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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