Is Africa really better for Diaspora children?
AFRICA SERIES : PART 1
Sophie Wallis is a migrant mother in London. She is currently considering sending her son back to Uganda. “I’m afraid my child will grow up and join a gang in London. I’ve been battling with this thought since he was born,” she says with a worried expression on her face.
Apart from the fear of her son joining a gang, Sophie also highlights financial constraints. “I can’t ask my husband for everything, I’m fed up with asking money for either this or that, even the smallest of things,” she says.
Financial difficulties pose significant problems to child
rearing, and even more challenges in the Diaspora. As Nubiga James says, “I cannot carry on working 10-hour shifts and at the same time monitoring the laisser-faire attitude of my 18-year-old boy who should be looking after his junior siblings. I’m taking him back to Cameroon.”
The responsibilities as African immigrant parents are numerous: they are expected to pay bills, fend for their children and themselves and be responsible for the upkeep of their siblings back in Africa. Challenges vary from trying to reconnect with their African roots and yet integrate within the society in which they are newly immersed. This stresses out many who believe they were brought up the best way and they need to bring up their children in the same way.
Tes Adams reveals that when she gets pregnant, she will immediately send her baby home to be raised by her mother-in-law. She argues that if she herself grew up alright back home, her child would do same.
Another case in point is Beri Clari, a mother and a student living in London. “It is not easy in England. If I don’t send the baby back home, I will die of stress,” she says. “My stress involves the fact that I have to sign in each time I go to school, scan my fingerprint four times on each of the three days I attend school as if I was a criminal. This is to prove to the Home Office that I am actually studying and not in the UK for alternative motives other than that for which I was granted a visa.”
Clari says, “I worry about immigration, worry about my child’s well-being, employ the services of a child-minder and also have to be a wife to my husband in the African perspective.” This last phrase, “the African perspective”, means that a woman is expected to cook for her husband, wash and iron for him and basically serve her husband while trying to integrate rhythm in her daily life routine.
Pressure on women
However, different people have different reasons as to why they should send their children back home without necessarily considering the aftermath of such an action on their children. Some female students, who by the age of 32-40 have not had any children, are psychologically pressured to having one. As Laura Apara told me: “Del, I need to start having children before menopause knocks on my door.”
The pressure of having a baby before they turn 45 is a constant issue for many women, thus some decide to have children irrespective of whether the circumstances to raise these children in a conducive environment are available. The clinical view that it is risky for women between the ages of 35 to 45 to have babies is a daunting thought for many women in the Diaspora and pummels their yearn for babies.
Traditional cultural discourses and practices of some African parents play a substantial role in raising up kids irrespective of the situation in which they find themselves. As discourses vary over time and space, so too people tend to prefer the discourses of the environment in which they were born even if they have moved on to other geographical spaces.
Fobete Dingha, a married Cameroonian living in Canada, sums up this view: “We are in a society where cultural difference is playing a very destructive role in raising children.I don’t mind if my mother raises my children as she will teach them the very practical principles which are lacking in this society: she will teach them respect.”
In a Facebook group that has almost 1,400 members, a thread was generated in which members shared their views on why Diaspora parents send their children back home to be raised by relatives.
Some parents prefer the education they were given in Africa than that of the western world. The irony is that some of these parents travelled to the west to further their education mainly because they thought western education was advanced compared to that in the developing world.
According to Leonard Bakia, “The educational, moral, economic and social advantages completely outweigh those of raising kids in oyiboland [The white man's land]. Of course, we can start evaluating the reliability of the relations you have back home.”
Nadia, who did not want to use her real name for privacy concerns, adds: “My decision [to send my children back to Cameroon] was, I would say, purely for educational reasons – the academic, emotional and psychological adjustment that comes from a sense of self that’s so lacking in African children brought up in the west. There was no way I could afford to send my children to the equivalent of the International School they attend in Yaoundé [Cameroon's capital city]. It still costs quite a lot, but not as much as the £30,000 (US $47,000) per child I would’ve forked out in the UK.
“Two years later, my children aged nine and 11 are bilingual, well behaved, exposed, confident and in a secondary school. Funny how the things my son misses from the UK are Burger King, wine gums, biscuits, cheese strings and sweets, while my daughter misses our shopping trips. Other than that they sincerely find the UK extremely boring. They are in Paris now on holidays but can’t wait for school to start to go back to Yaoundé.”
An example of the complexity of the issues is this testimony by a Nigerian girl who had been sent from London to attend Queen Mary’s College in Lagos, Nigeria. She says: “It was an opportunity for me to connect with my roots. It made me independent and mature.”
Although some parents are keen on sending their children back to Africa, others are ever so resilient to do so. Their argument is that good children can be raised anywhere in the world if only parents show enough concern and dedication.
father writes, “Mine are not back in Cameroon only because their mother threatens to imprison me if I try. I have pointed out quite frankly that I came from one of the poorest countries in the world but I know now that I had the best education money can buy - and my children living in one of the richest countries in the world are not going to get half of what I had. It is a terrible thing to realise as a parent. My Ghanaian friend sent his three children home. They all went to the best schools in Kumasi and are preparing for university now. One of them had been labeled ‘EMR [Educably Mentally Retarded] in the school system in Holland.”
Another strong voice, Bedie Nnoko, who is against parents sending their children back home, writes: “Personally, I am for the most part against the idea of sending children away from their parents. This foolproof idea of sending children to Cameroon because supposedly they will get better education, better moral values, and they will know where they come from (as if there is no other way of going about it) is a lie. A child can and will get a good education and even better in most western countries if only the parents will participate in the process.
“The difficulty level parents may encounter in the west is a challenge each individual has to figure out how to tackle. If a parent must take this difficult road, it is obviously very important to factor several things in the picture. These are personal questions that differ from one person’s situation to another’s. There is no one size which fits all in this decision. Cameroon is not the answer to raising children properly. Cameroon is not an oven which turns out the perfect loaf of bread every time.”
A deeply personal issue
Dr Nicoline Ambe is a special education teacher in the United States. She says: “This is such a complex, emotional and deeply personal issue for so many families that it won’t be fair to give an abbreviated view on it. For my personal situation, I would never make such a choice for my own children. America has the best schools in the world, so I want them exposed to the curriculum fully and early.” She adds, “Parents have such strong emotional bonds with their children that I am usually very careful how I offer suggestions. They get very defensive.”
For Dr Ambe, there are so many issues at stake she would rather engage in a study of the topic than give a one off view to it.
Dr Tony Cline of the British Psychological Society and the Educational Psychology (University College London) states: “One cannot generalise about the psychological impact of the return to this country of children of immigrants who are born here, spend a period in their parents’ country of origin and then return here. The impact will depend on the circumstances, e.g. the age at which each move occurs, the family constellation that the child leaves and rejoins, the family setting within which they spend time in the country overseas.”
The inability of parents to understand the environment they live in, their strive to make ends meet and many other factors influence their decision to send their children back. It turns out right for some but to others, it’s a nightmare.