Obama's emotional trip to Kenya is quiet diplomacy in action.
Photo by Tony Karumba/Getty Images.

The legacy of Barack Obama and Kenya will be forever intertwined.

The East African country is the birthplace of Obama's father and the source of a conspiracy theory about Obama's own birthplace that the president has had to spend way too much time refuting.

It's also a place where Obama is making a real impact.


On July 15, Obama stopped by Kogelo, where his sister-in-law Auma Obama opened Sauti Kuu — a youth sports and training center that aims to help children "become self-reliant mentally, socially, and financially."

Photo by Tony Karumba/Getty Images.

Back in 2015, Obama said that returning to Kenya after his presidency might actually be more effective, "because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center."

And he has a point.

Obama was able to mingle with several of the kids at the Sauti Kuu resource center. But he was also there to help the country heal after a tumultuous, contested election.

He's on a journey that carries a larger message of hope.

It's a big deal any time Obama visits Kenya. And while this visit was described as "low-key," he was also there doing some very important work.

Kenya has been divided over a contested 2017 election. The country's current President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga agreed in March 2018 to work together after months of political fighting.

Obama is meeting with both leaders during his visit to help facilitate a peaceful and lasting political solution.

Though Obama has been mostly quiet about the visit, Kenyatta posted about their visit on Twitter, adding several pictures of the two men meeting.

On July 18, Obama heads to South Africa to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth and to meet with 200 African children who are working with the Obama Foundation. Not bad for a low-key trip.

Obama is showing how quiet diplomacy is something we could use more of right now.

President Teddy Roosevelt once famously said of his approach to international diplomacy, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." What many may not know is Roosevelt actually cited the quote as a West African proverb that he picked up during his travels before becoming president.

In many ways, it also captures Obama's approach to exerting his influence in the world. Instead of lecturing the world, he's helping empower Kenya's youth and offering his support to healing the nation's political divide.

Right now, the world of politics seems to be dominated by those with the loudest voices. But Obama, time and again, shows that the power of diplomacy rooted in respect and trust can indeed help someone go far.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.