Africa Awareness Initiative shutting down stereotypes

“When people on this side of the world talk about Africa, they’re either talking about something they saw on the news or an aid organization,” said fourth-year UBC student Marianne Mesfin, the vice-president of external affairs of the Africa Awareness Initiative, to sum up why such an initiative is a critically important part of UBC’s repertoire of clubs. 

Between news articles, high school global issues classes discussing genocide, HIV/AIDS, war and poverty, our perspective of such a vast and diverse place becomes dangerously uniform. We forget that Africa is a continent of over 50 diverse and very different countries — each with their own unique identities. Mesfin hopes to shut down this concept and show the diverse nature of the African continent. 

The Africa Awareness Initiative hosted their conference week with an aim to educate both about Africa and bring the African community at UBC together. 

“This year, our theme is redefining development with perspectives from the diaspora,” said Mesfin. “I chose this theme because I feel like development is something that’s almost become synonymous with Africa.” 

Mesfin hopes to show a side of Africa that is less publicized. 

“Redefining development is about breaking down those narratives and thinking about the other side of the story,” she said. 

Mesfin hopes to change how foreigners see Africa and link the Africans here to their roots through discussing Africa positively and exploring initiative programs pertaining to African development taking place in Africa itself.

Born in Ethiopia, Mesfin herself grew up in Rwanda. She came to Canada for university and has noticed since that many Africans who have been part of the diaspora (students, people working abroad and recent migrants from Africa) have lost touch with their home countries. Discussing the goals of the conference, she said, “One half of it is to keep people here aware, but the other half is to reach out to our own community.” 

The conference will bring the community to UBC with African speakers such as Dr. Imbenzi George — the honorary Consul of the Republic of Kenya in BC — and Sarah Kayongo, a founder of the Global Soap Project

Uniting both Africans to their roots and foreigners to Africa, the Africa Awareness Initiative Conference Week is posed to be a fascinating and deeply educational event that will change how we read about Africa in the news today and in the weeks, years and months to come. 

The conference — which is free and, yes, serves food — spans the entirety of this coming week with events every day. To find out where events will be taking place and to find out more about each event, visit their website.