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Building Bridges through Language and Culture

My name is Faith. I am a 34 year old Kenyan, married with one son. After I graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Education in English and Literature, I felt the urge to study the Chinese language and culture. At that point in my life, all I wanted was to study another foreign language. I had no concept of the Chinese language. Through a friend who had just come from China, I found out I could learn Mandarin Chinese. So, in 2008, I took a short course of basic Chinese for about three months. After that, I did not study Mandarin again as I had to begin a government employment position as an English teacher. While I was doing this, through many interventions by God, I received a scholarship in 2009 to go to China to study the Chinese language and culture. God was working behind the scenes to ensure that I could learn Chinese. God had a great plan for me; he only needed me to obey in faith and he would then place me where he wanted me to be.

In August of 2009, I resigned from my government employment and left for China. I went to Shandong Normal University in Jinan to study Chinese. While there, I not only learned the language but also the people’s culture. This was intriguing! The Chinese are very different from us Africans, though there are some similarities. I learned to eat their food, interact with them, and build lasting friendships. Later, I traveled to Shanghai and Beijing for teacher training.

In August of 2010, I started working as a Chinese language teacher at the Confucius Institute in one of Kenya’s universities. At the Institute, I had many interactions with my Chinese colleagues. I worked there for an amazing six years and am forever grateful knowing that I gained so much experience there.

While working at the university, I felt there was a need for more cultural experiences between the Chinese people and the local, Kenyan people. By this time, many Chinese had already started coming to Kenya, and many Kenyans were working with Chinese. I realized that with their interaction—and understanding the diversity between the two people groups—there would likely be many conflicts that would arise because of the differences in culture.

I took time to pray and ask God what my role should be in this. Through his direction, I decided to open a language and cultural center in the capital city, Nairobi. As a result, in September of 2011, Discovery Chinese Cultural Center LTD (our present name) opened. In that center, I began to reach out to business people and others outside the scope of the university to sensitize them to the need to understand the Chinese language and culture. In addition to the young, Chinese language students at the university, I felt that there was another unreached group outside the university who needed to learn more about the Chinese people.

At that time, my country had begun to engage the Chinese people in much infrastructure development, education, and trade. Many partnerships between the Chinese and Kenya were developing. Many people were working among the Chinese. Some of them were not as educated as they had not gone to the university.

I asked myself who would take care of these unreached groups of people. The answer was within me: it had to be me—I had to rise to the occasion. The call of God and his daily confirmation of it were strong; I began doing what I felt God had called me to do. Through our small center, I started teaching the Chinese language and culture. We became involved in teaching the Chinese language to African employees of some Chinese companies in Kenya. Many people had become interested in learning Chinese and China’s culture. Our timing and flexibility have so far enabled us to have a niche in the market. We are able to reach everyone, offering a platform to learn the Chinese language wherever they are.

We also began to teach English to many Chinese people, either as groups or as individuals. We would visit them, even in their homes, to teach them English. We would also teach their children English. In addition, we began teaching Chinese people Kiswahili which is one of our national languages and the major language for local interaction apart from English. Right now, many Chinese can speak basic Kiswahili.

I started forming strong partnerships with different people and organizations by going to various places to teach the language and culture. This was amazing. After a few years, I also joined the church to teach Chinese language and culture in ministry. By this time, around 2014, my church, in particular, realized that many Chinese people who were now in Kenya were in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This revealed a need in the church for Kenyans to be able to communicate and minister to the Chinese. 

Through these opportunities, in three subsequent years, I was able to effectively teach both Kenyans and foreigners the Chinese language and culture. The group of those in love with this ministry of reaching out to the Chinese gradually started to grow, and it has continued to grow ever since. Some of the locals have taken up the Chinese language and gone as far as learning it up to HSK level 4 (Chinese proficiency levels by Hanban). Some are able to attend Chinese-led Bible studies and continue to show love to as many Chinese people as possible.

It is worth noting that in every venture, whether at our language cultural center, in Chinese companies, schools, hotels, or churches, I have continued to emphasize the need for cultural integration and mutual understanding between the two groups of people. Of course, this has not been easy. There have been many conflicts between the two people groups with Kenyans feeling that the Chinese people have come to take them over and seize their work opportunities. Sometimes there are cases of racial discrimination between the Chinese and Kenyans. These and other challenges have occurred between the two groups.  

When I have an opportunity to speak to any group of students, whether young or old, I always feel it is my role to ensure that despite the differences in our cultures, we must find a common platform of interacting with one another so that we can accommodate one another and thereby live peacefully with one another.

Many years have now passed. We have had a lot to do with the Chinese people; our center has grown and employed other staff. We have been conducting teacher training programs to help other teachers understand more of the language and culture. We hope that when these teachers go to teach, they will be sure to spread the message of reconciliation and love to other Kenyans, whether young or old. All our clients, both Chinese and local Kenyans, are able to get a taste of understanding each other’s culture.

We, as a center, are now involved in teaching Chinese language and culture to both children and adults. We hope our children will grow, appreciating the differences in cultures and feel the need for cultural integration and living in peace with one another. We shall also be having English classes for Chinese children. We hope these classes will go a long way in ensuring that Chinese understand Kenyans as well and can learn their culture. We also hope to continue training many more people in Kenya who interact with the Chinese about how to build friendships at their places of work, maintain integrity, and serve as a good example. This will help in reaching out to the Chinese people with God’s love, as well as maintaining healthy relationships.

Africans are a very loving people and, Kenyans in particular, want always to be hospitable to foreigners. A great love for God is engraved deep in their hearts. Kenyans are ready to share this love with others. If by sharing this love, lasting and loving relationships are created, this will serve as an avenue for building bridges among the people groups.

We hope to establish other centers in different parts of Africa. All these will have the aim of demystifying the Chinese perceptions that have spread as well as creating lasting friendships between the Africans and Chinese people. I am highly involved in this assignment and trust God to enable us and provide the necessary resources to ensure this happens. We also hope to establish a large center that will serve as a place for building friendships—a place where both Chinese and Kenyans can display and exchange their cultural values.

Our center will be eight years old this September. We have continued to grow and believe we shall grow even more. Our primary role is to ensure Kenyan and African children and adults are exposed to the Chinese culture and language. In addition, we want to help build lasting friendships that lead to healthy mutual agreements and partnerships—all for the glory and honor of God.

You can learn more about Discovery Chinese Cultural Center from its website, Facebook, and YouTube

Image credit: Discovery Chinese Cultural Center
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Faith Wanjiku Mworia

Faith Wanjiku Mworia is the founder of Discovery Chinese Cultural Center in Nairobi, Kenya where she promotes cultural and language exchange between Kenyans and Chinese. You can learn more about Discovery Chinese Cultural Center from its website, Facebook, and YouTube.View Full Bio