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The Kochia Chronicles: A Cautionary Message to Students With Good Intentions

I once had a friend who proudly announced that she wanted to go to Africa to “do service.” My friends and I laughed at her ambiguity; she wanted to go to an entire continent with some vague idea of what it would mean to help. We failed, however, to see how beautiful that notion was. Somewhere along the line she’d come to know that there was a nation struggling, and she felt compelled by some sort of goodness inside of her to help these complete strangers.

Khanjan Mehta, the Founding Director of Penn State’s Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program, seeks to harness and guide this exact inherent goodness in his novel The Kochia Chronicles. Mehta believes our generation’s compulsion to help could be a wonderful thing if properly executed. “Passion and good intentions are not enough,” he insists. The Kochia Chronicles serve as almost a guide for how to properly instill change.

Many of us have a basic understanding of problems facing Africa, and we’ve done our part to help. We’ve purchased our Tom’s Shoes. We searched for, but never found, Kony in 2012. But we don’t know to what extent we are hurting or helping. The Kochia Chronicles are a set of nine short stories that take our understanding to a new level. Originally, Mehta wrote these tales for his students to read in place of pouring over textbooks with abstract concepts. The Chronicles allowed him to personalize his teachings.

The result was a series of compelling short stories following Janet, Obongo, Okello, and a few others. Soon enough you start to understand the culture of the small town of Kochia (located in Western Kenya) because you see it through their lives. When Obongo wants to spend all of his money on a three month funeral for his father, you want to beg him not to but you understand why it’s important. When Janet doesn’t want to visit her dying sister because she must attend the AIDS clinic, you see the sacrifice she has to make.

Mehta emphasizes that positive changes in East Africa cannot be achieved without respect for and integration of this African culture. Africa is a society hungry for technological innovation so long as their norms are properly incorporated. It’s a novel that I sincerely recommend to anybody with an interest in shaping the world. The Kochia Chronicles show that anybody can help — whether you’re a business major or pre-med.

Be sure to hit up Amazon and get yourself a copy.

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