from the desk of Annette Walker

from the desk of Annette Walker

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Favourite Regina
     Transcending the Fate of the Refugee Experience
     Featured in New Film 'Sauti' -

                           by Annette Walker

     Although Favourite Regina spent her childhood and teenage years in a refugee settlement in Uganda (East Africa), she has broken many barriers imposed by that stark existence.
     A scholarship recipient and college graduate who was an exchange student in Paris, Favourite was invited last year to speak at a United Nations program.  She also is featured in a new film, 'Sauti', which focuses upon the refugee phenomenon.  She speaks 6 African languages including Swahili as well as English and some French.
     This contrasts with the reality for many who grow up in refugee settlements where secondary schools often do not exist.  Furthermore, there is a tendency for more boys than girls to complete whatever schooling is available.
     Favourite was one of 4 girls in her settlement to complete high school and go to college.
     In July she came to the United States as part of a Golden Bridge program in Boulder, Colorado. She also participated in events in Vermont and Texas.  Before returning to Uganda in August, Favourite was a speaker at a screening of 'Sauti', an event sponsored by the Colorado Committee on Africa and the Caribbean and held at The Mercury Cafe in Denver.
     The film 'Sauti', which means 'Voice" in the Swahili language, was produced by the Boulder-based NeeNee Productions and is directed by Gayle Nosal.
     Born in Rwanda which underwent a genocide beginning in 1994, Favourite fled with her family to the Congo.  Returning briefly to Rwanda, but finding the conditions inhospitable, the family made its way to the Kywangali Refugee Camp in Uganda.
     Kywangali was established in 1996 when the area was mostly forest and bush.  The refugees had to get involved in clearing the land and growing food, for which they were given seeds. 
     Most families survive on subsistence agriculture, carry water from borehole pumps, lack electricity and are sometimes afflicted by a variety of health issues.
     Since they are from traditional African societies, girls over sixteen years of age are encouraged to get married.
     "People think there is something wrong with a young girl who is not yet married," said Favourite.  "I thought about the cooking and what might happen if there were a baby," she continued.  "I decided that there was nothing I can do for a man if I get married now."
      She is the oldest child in her family and in the film describes her family unit.  "My father emphasized education, she said."  "He sold everything he planted, such as peanuts, beans and rice to pay for my school fees," she continued.
     "He also transported me 62 kilometers to school on his bicycle.  Later he insisted that I learn how to drive a motorcycle.  For many people a girl riding a motorcycle is almost a sin," she laughed.  "My father insisted that I learn how to prepare for the future," she continued.
     Favourite's father passed away before she completed high school, and she feels responsible for her mother and younger siblings who still live in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp.
     Currently, she has two main tasks.  First is her commitment to the people, especially children and youth, at Kyangwali.  She mentors and is involved in educational programs.
     Second is her commitment to Africa.  She is an active member to CIYOTA (Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa), an organization created by African refugee youth.  Its mission is to expand educational programs and generally help displaced children and youth prepare for their future.
     Favourite works with secondary school students in a CIYOTA program at Kyangwali.  According to their research, 50% of African refugees are under the age of 18.  With little access to education, which hurts their employment possibilities, their future is bleak and makes them dependent upon receiving different forms of aid.
     "My work is based on the concept of giving-back," said Favourite.
     People like Favourite are needed not only in Africa, but globally.  According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement in recorded history.  An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes due to political conflict and persecution.  Over half are under the age of 18.  
     Over 10 million people are stateless and, for all practical purposes, have no recognized nationality.  This situation denies them access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Editor's Note:  Information about the film 'Sauti' can be accessed at
     This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

South Africa: Book Portrays the Dynamics of the Transformation Process

Donna BrysonIt's a Black-White Thing

South Africa:  Book Portrays the Dynamics of the Transformation Process
                                           by Annette Walker

     "I am optimistic about the future of South Africa," said journalist and author Donna Bryson.
     As an Associated Press reporter based in South Africa on two occasions, she has witnessed that nation emerge from the brutality of the apartheid system to governance by peaceful elections.  She was there in 1994 for the historic campaign, election and inauguration of Nelson Mandela as that nation's first African president.
     Since then the transfer of power to his successors (Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma) has occurred through democratic elections.
     "The period from 1993-1997 when I was there was one of euphoria and hope," said Bryson.  "The need to respond to voting was tremendous and even today the voter turnout is still good," she continued.
     When she returned in 2008 South Africa was engaged in working out the complexities of the transition process.  There had been much progress.  Some manifestations are symbolic, such as naming the airport in Johannesburg for Oliver Tambo, the renowned leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela.
     There are also concrete manifestations.  "When I arrived in 1993 the customs and immigration staff at the airport was all-white.  Now they are primarily black South African," said Bryson.
     However, in 2008 South Africa was attempting to recover from a negative incident at the University of the Free State (UFS) in the central section of South Africa.  It is also the heartland of the people known as Afrikaners who established South Africa's apartheid system of separation of the races  Their language is Afrikaans, not English, and which, until recently,  was used exclusively at the University of the Free State.  The Afrikaners are descendants of the Dutch who began settling in South Africa in the 17th century.
     In 2007 four white students opposed to campus integration produced a video in which they harassed the Black janitorial staff.  Known as the Reitz video, it was posted on YouTube and went viral.  The university, the province and the nation was shocked and embarrassed since this incident challenged the idea that progress in race relations was taking place in South Africa.     
     Upon initiating routine journalistic investigations, Bryson discovered that race relations in South Africa were complex, and she was driven to engage in more profound analysis.
     "I had the privilege of engaging in many long talks with people of all ethnic groups who cared deeply about their university and their country, and who believe that change is a challenge to which they are equal," she continued."
     Bryson also contends that the subject of race relations is often discussed in easy cliches, and that everyone most guard against backsliding into suspicion, fear or stereotypes.
     She conducted numerous interviews with students, faculty and other individuals in the Free State province.  
      Bryson disagrees that race relations in the Free State and its university are the worst in the nation.  "Like the rest of the country, UFS and the Free State province are attempting to transform to become a place where blacks and whites live and learn together," she said.  "It is a microcosm of what was happening in the rest of the country."
     Her extensive interviews allowed her to juxtapose two realities present in South Africa:  1) The action of the four students represented a desperate attempt to cling to the past of white superiority and black subjugation; 2) Actions of other students and faculty represent a commitment to creating a multi-cultural, multi-racial educational institution.
     Her book It's a Black-White Thing, consists of stories of the transformation process taking place at UFS.  There are white students who refuse to speak Afrikaans because of their concern that black students will feel excluded.
     Other white students are learning Sotho, an indigenous South African language, to be able to communicate with some Black students.  South Africa has 11 official languages.
     Bryson emphasizes the crucial importance of the black and white leadership at UFS and documents the programs, policies and changes they initiated.  Equally important, she shares aspects of their personal stories that impact the challenges of creating a new South Africa.
     She recounts a former white rector's response to the Reitz video crisis.  He realized that the ghosts of apartheid were present on the campus as well as the nation.  "Transformation never stops," he told Bryson.  "It goes on and on."
     South African still has major problems, many of them economic in nature.  The wealth gap between blacks and whites remains.
     Bryson, however, believes in that South Africans have the capacity to ".  .be imaginative in finding solutions for the future" and that the nation possesses ". .a sense of the possibility of reinvention and determination to turn history of hate and racism into fuel to empower those committed to change."

(This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum)