The UofMosaic Fellows on each campus plan and participate in initiatives that build a culture of meaningful and peaceful exchanges of ideas on campus. These initiatives are typically connected to current global conflicts or social justice issues that are relevant to the Fellows and their broader student body. They range from moderated dialogues, to seminars, to art exhibits and more.
The UofMosaic Fellows at the University of British Columbia recently completed their first initiative – keep reading to find out more!
As one the youngest countries in Africa and in the world, South Sudan has been going through a civil war since 2011 that has resulted in thousands of displacements and lives lost through inter-ethnic violence, sexual violence, crime and military coups. Western media coverage has not always provided a holistic understanding of the crisis and, from our perspective, very little attention has been paid to this issue, which is what largely inspired our first event. Our goal was not to only raise awareness about the crisis, but to also showcase the impact of diaspora or transnational activism.
On November 16th, 2016, we invited three South Sudanese speakers who had been directly impacted by the crisis, all of whom are involved in diaspora activism. The University of British Columbia (UBC), has long been sponsoring students coming from South Sudan through the World University of Canada (WUSC) initiative. By amplifying the voices of South Sudanese students on campus and in the wider Vancouver community who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the conflict, as UofMosaic Fellows at UBC, we hope to expand and create accessible dialogue on this issue.
This event attracted 40 attendees who came out to UBC’s Global Lounge, a space on campus that is designed to host events on global issues. It was extremely moving and inspiring to hear two students who grew up in refugee camps talk about their country’s fight for independence from Sudan, but then its spiral back into conflict due to ethnic divisions, weak institutions and corruption. It was equally moving to hear from a working professional who experienced the independence wars, and actively contributed to the country’s independence by working with his fellow countrymen, to end the years of exploitation and struggle of South Sudan.
Furthermore, this event also showcased the exemplary work that members of the South Sudanese diaspora are engaging in to contribute to peace and nation building in their country. For instance, two of the student speakers founded a non-profit, Sponsor a Child Initiative (SCI), which sponsors academically strong elementary students from refugee camps in South Sudan, who are then enrolled in high schools in Kenya, their neighbouring country. The speakers stated that the creation of SCI was due to a shared concern for the youth living in refugee camps and their inability to access secondary education. As refugees themselves, they have benefited from scholarships and grants to acquire post-secondary education. Unfortunately, many young people living in conflict regions do not often access these kinds of opportunities. From their standpoint, South Sudan needs an educated and enlightened youth in order to have a strong and unified nation. The third speaker, a working professional who has been involved in his home country via networks of transnational activism since the independence of South Sudan, continues to work alongside other south Sudanese citizens to contribute to nation building.
All three accounts revealed something powerful: the ability for the attendees to connect to the stories of South Sudan, a country that some hadn’t even heard of before.
Needless to say, the power of personal stories in advocacy and awareness raising was tangible. The emotions and memories shared by the speakers acted as a strong force in allowing attendees to participate in meaningful dialogue.
Overall, this event helped to shine light on the current crisis in South Sudan. Participants shared that they had learned important information about the current crisis in South Sudan, a country they don’t often hear about in the news. Interestingly, one of the unexpected outcomes that emerged from this event is that some participants mentioned that they had been inspired to organize similar events on other issues that have been overlooked by mainstream media, and sought advice from the speakers and us, which was encouraging to know that something positive had come out of this initiative. Thank you to all who made this event possible.
Blog written by UofMosaic Fellows at UBC (Nelly Ky, Nika Moeini, Himani Bhatnagar and Morrell Andrews)