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Friday, August 10, 2007

Gaining the coin, losing the family

CAREERS

GAINING THE COIN, LOSING THE FAMILY

FRANCIS KAHIHU

fkahihu@gmail.com

With the globalisation and liberalisation of the world economies, the family is becoming an endangered institution. There is currently a rush for the shilling. The cost of living has arguably gone up, hence the need to bolster sources of income to sustain family needs. With the demand at the workplace; the businesses, organisations and governments have had to offer opportunities to their employees far away from their spouses and children. And the lure has been enticing. The paycheck smiles at the recipient and the allowances are handsome. This for sure serves as a motivator for persons to desire such opportunities.

With the Kenyan economy unable to churn jobs for the ever increasing trained human resource, many have found the solace of seeking for opportunities in far away lands. Currently, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and southern Africa have served as enticing destinations for hundreds of Kenyan professionals and middle level personnel.

With all this movement of persons, one key casualty has been the institution of the family. But just what shall it benefit a wo/man if s/he gains the world and loses his/her family? There has been a concentration on the contribution that human resource exportation makes to the economy while we have overlooked the damage caused to the same economy by the failure of the family institution as a result of taking up job opportunities in far away lands. Regrettably, many of the opportunities have been categorised as “unaccompanied”. This means that the employee is not expected to have their families with them.

The society is divided on this. There are those of the school of thought that getting a well paying job in a far away land is welcome as it guarantees a better future for the family. Granted. On the other side of the continuum are those who hold the position that they would rather stay at home with the family, earning little but maintain a closer relationship at home. For this group of persons, they find satisfaction in relating personally with the family members, though with little income. The arguments advanced by both philosophies somewhat find justification in the national psyche and the society hence divides on this (what side of the divide are you?)

I have worked in the humanitarian world for a significant period of time now. Through this period, I have interacted with the minds of many humanitarian aid workers. One common feeling is that given a chance, few if any would want to be away from their families. In essence, many are forced by circumstances to flee their homes, and this plunges them into a mourning season upon departure to take up far-away postings. There are those persons, on the contrary who are as happy to leave their homes. To this group of persons, the need to provide for the family far much outweighs the benefit of family company. And each of the groups finds justification in their propositions.

However, even as the debate rages, the fact of the matter is that the family institution continues to suffer in silence. Spouses are torn from each other, parents and their children are torn from one another. At times, the scenario is such that the family unit is divided into three parts. Each of the parents goes their own way, while the children are either taken to boarding schools or are left at the care of the extended families. At this, the parents leave the nest earlier than the children and the responsibility of taking care of the kids is taken up by relatives and friends. These families seek to link up after a period of about two to three months when the parents are on rest and recuperation, commonly referred to as R & R.

There are always hopes that the R & R period would coincide between the parents, and at a time when the children are available for holiday. This is usually a big gamble as it rarely happens. This then translates to the family unit linking up after an elongated period of time. Experience proves that bonds in a group get stronger the more the opportunities you have to meet. Fears and anxieties are shared, and solutions proposed. This knits the group together, and produces an environment of trust. On the contrary, when the time invested is reduced, there is a certain impact on the quality of fellowship and relationship that develops within the group. And the family torn apart by distant job engagements faces the challenge of loose bonds.

To come closer home, there is another scenario that is quickly gaining momentum. There are families that daily live under the same roof but are miles far away from each other. The family barely meets. The parents get home late after hard work, and have to leave early for work the next day (to avoid the grounding traffic jams on our roads). The children on most cases are home relatively earlier in the evenings, concentrate on their school work and engage the television programs as they wait for dinner after which they retire to bed. The family meets, sorry, crosses each other in the morning in the streets of the house as each hassles to get ready for the day’s activities and to beat the daily competition for space on the roads and at the bus stage.

The rush for the elusive coin is having an unprecedented effect on our society and a need to arrest the impact is rising. Many children are currently orphaned even when their parents are alive, while many spouses have separated though they live within the same house. The bond that defines a family is replaced by the coin that defines success in the wider world. The support that families offer each other is absent as members seek to align to systems that offer the much needed help. The television and the peer groups have taken over to address the vacuum created by absentee parents.

There is need for a paradigm shift in the society today since the effects of the failure of the family unit is to affect the same society producing this output. We need to revisit our value for family and realise that no other system can effectively replace it. As career parents, we would need to seek for the support of our family members in making decisions that affect them and seek for alternative ways of making ends meet. For instance, many spouses are driven out of home by the demands of their partners and children. A parent in charge of his/her family ought to take a bold stand and explain to the family the consequences of denying each other time. Let there be an emphasis on the need to be together as opposed to the need for an extra coin. I feel the men, arguably the heads of the homes, ought to take charge and arrest factors that are so determined to tear apart the family. For, nothing shall benefit us if we gain the whole world and lose our families. After your job is gone, you are left with your family. Your family is the institution that will take care of you in your old age, and accompany your lifeless self to the grave eventually. Honour it while stocks last.

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