On our second night in Pakistan we heard some devastating news, there was a flight that crashed only a few miles from the Islamabad airport. There were forty-seven people on the flight, all of them passed. This was a tragic event that not only affected a few families but ultimately the whole country. Due to this tragedy the summit was rescheduled to begin two days after the original start date in order to allow people to mourn.
During the two days that we had to spare before the summit began, all the delegates were asked to write a speech, this speech would be presented on the first day of the summit. Writing my speech was a very important experience for me, through writing I was able to analyze the realities of my identity. I was representing South Sudan and have never been to the country, yet it is still considered home to me. I was raised in Canada and also consider it home. I am a continental born diasporic African and I felt it was important to mention my experience. Along with this I decided to discuss the water crisis in South Sudan and the importance of intervention to the falling nation.
The day came, it was time to present my speech on behalf of South Sudanese youth both in the country and in the diaspora. The room was full of local youth delegates, youth international ambassadors, global governmental ambassadors, and a very distinguished panel on the stage. This panel included the World Chairman of the International Human Rights Commission, Dr. Khan, Former Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr Jhala Natha Khanal, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Former Prime Minister of Tunisa, Hamadi Jebali. Not only was speaking at such an important event a nerve-racking experience but on top of it all, I felt like I had to impress the panel. A few delegates presented before me, then it was my turn. The chairman announced my name and in the introduction he mentioned South Sudan being the newest country in Africa and the importance of my voice being present at the summit for my community. I thought I was nervous before, but after my introduction I was even more nervous and felt the pressure. As I was walking to the stage I was followed by claps so loud I could feel the ripples move my feet. I knew that my nerves would take the best of me if I did not take my time with my speech, and so I did.
Though I wasn’t satisfied with my presentation, after I watch a recorded film I then realized that it was probably the most valuable presentation I’ve ever made to date. I say this because I was not only looking at my speech delivery; rather I looked at everything I had gone through in order to make it to that stage to deliver my speech. From hard work and dedication, to personal challenges, to the GoFundMe campaign, to issues receiving my visa and to building the courage and confidence to feel qualified enough to represent my country South Sudan.
I thank the Most High for guiding me through this whole experience and reminding me of how important it is to stay focused, have hope and push for what I want.
You will see the clip of my speech below. It only goes up from here.
There is so much that I want to share with you, but before I begin I would first like to thank everyone who contributed in any way to get me to Pakistan. Though there are thousands of GoFundMe pages for various causes, for me it was still very hard to ask for help. I put myself in a vulnerable position; one that I was not used to but I am grateful for the love and support that was shown to me.
For those who may not know, I was appointed Youth Ambassador of South Sudan for the International Human Rights Commission and represented my country at the World Youth Summit for Peace from Dec 7 -12, 2016.
When I spoke to people about me going to this summit many people were excited, yet that excitement turned into worry when I mentioned the location in which this summit was taking place. The World Youth Summit for Peace took place in a country that has been stigmatized in the media as a nation of violence and terrorism. I am not going to lie; I too began to be a bit worried once I heard the confusion in the voices of my friends and family after the third or fourth time. Regardless of what was said, I knew that the International Human Rights Commission would not plan and organize an international event four youth regarding human rights and peace in a location that they knew was unsafe. I went with my gut and worked to get there anyway.
When I got my visa and my ticket it became official. Everything was finalized only a few days before I was to leave to Asia for the first time. Though I love to travel, I hate long flights, I felt as though I was sleeping for ages. Finally we arrived and I was greeted at the airport from a distance by four amazing program coordinators who were excited to receive me. I also met a lovely woman by the name of Diana. Diana was a Goodwill Ambassador from Bulgaria who was actually on the same flight as me. We drove about thirty minutes to our accommodation and because we arrived so early in the morning we had the day to sleep. A few hours after our arrival I got a knock at the door, it was another delegate by the name of Ainura coming from Kazakhstan. Ainura also became my roomie. This was the beginning of an unforgettable six days. Let the selfies begin.
Because we had a day to kill before the summit would proceed we got a chance to explore a bit of the marketplace. You will find images below that speak to a bit of the experience I had my first day in Pakistan. There is so much to write about and share, so please look out for another blog post next week.
This is not the end of but just the beginning. Preparing to leave South Africa was about a three-month process. Three months to settle and three months of preparation to leave, but not forget the people, community and environment that I have grown to love. Traveling to South Africa had always been a dream of mine as a young girl; I had this major obsession with Nelson Mandela. I think my obsession mainly drove from the fact that all my other inspirational leaders had passed yet Mandela was still alive and living his legacy vividly for us to watch and learn. It was of privilege to see, hear and follow his transition yet still learning impeccably from him.
I grew up knowing that I was African first and then Sudanese. I am first a product of the continent, a descendent of Nubia and a child of Bilad-Al Sudan. I am Emanuella Dobijoki Nicola Khalifa Bringi Uweri Baokute. I know exactly where I come from and know who I am; this is something that can never be taken away from me. I confidently hold my values close to my heart as it is represented in all that I do and practice. Regardless of how proud and confident I may feel now, this would not have been a possibility if I did not actively seek to learn and love myself, my culture and history. Those who know me personally or even on a blurred scale will recognize me as an African, Sudanese woman.
While in South Africa, there were certain places I had to go and places I had to see and feel in order to know that I took full advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with my people, and to find the space to reflect and experience the battle that my elders and ancestors encountered in order for us to live decently. I was not going to leave South Africa without touching foot on Robben Isalnd. I remember writing about Robben Island in the seventh grade and saying that one day I will not only meet Nelson Mandela, but I will be on his soil. Unfortunately meeting Mandela did not happen, RIP; but Robben Island did. I landed Wednesday, Thursday morning I woke up anxiously knowing that it was the day for me to live that dream I had always wished for. I took the city bus in busy Cape Town, it took me about an hour to get to the loading dock and catch the ferry to the island. It was a dull excitement I was feeling if that even makes sense. In my mind I knew that this was a big deal, yet reflecting to myself about the struggle of my people had me quiet. The ferry ride was horrible, I think I got seasick; I had to tightly hold my eye shut for 30 minutes until we got to the island.
As I got off the boat I did not see a major difference in setting, you can still tell it’s a tourist attraction because of the numbers of people running around and the shops that are in front of you. There was someone who then directed those who just arrived to a bunch of buses; these buses were going to drive the visitors around the island. I attended by myself by the way; this was something that required me to be in my own space. As we were being driven, I realized that people were hopping from one side of the bus to the other taking their perfect photos, yet I was seated peacefully glancing out the window and ultimately picturing what the reality would have been for these prisoners. At times I felt like I could only hear the tour guides description and feel the bumpy bus; I was dazed staring at nothing yet thinking about everything. I was thinking of what it meant for my people to have struggled as they did and I thought about the struggle that us Africans still face directly and indirectly every moment of our lives; I more specifically thought about the bravery of my people, the passion and pride they carry to not let things just be as is, but rather be just and equitable.
After the bus ride we were met by an ex-prisoner who gave us a detailed tour of the prison. There were times where I felt emotions constantly running under the surface of my skin; to hear the stories and descriptions in first person was even more remarkable and intensifying. We were shown the cells of prisoners, the food menu that was significantly of lesser value for a “Bantu” prisoner; we were shown Mandela’s garden, which has a history of its own, and lastly we had the privilege of seeing the cell of Mandela. Unlike the other cells you could not enter the cell of Mandela, it is ultimately a sacred space that must be respected. It was not until that moment, after five months of being in the country that I felt that I have successfully been in South Africa. I took a photo in front of Mandela’s cell and like others I was confused as to whether I should smile or not, it was joyful as it was the closest I would get to meeting Mandela, yet highly painful at the same time.
When I went to Johannesburg for the second time during my six-month stay I got the chance to visit the infamous Soweto. I saw Mandela’s house on Vilakazi st and passed by the homes of Desmond TuTu and Winnie Mandela, who actually still reside in and own those homes. It was the best opening closure to the journey I began when coming to South Africa. I say opening because it is just the beginning of my legacy that I will leave, but closure as this was needed for me to be at peace with that portion of my identity.
In 2013 I took part in the Miss AfriCanada Heritage Pageant. This pageant was not about physical beauty, this pageant was unlike others as it was focused on the knowledge of self as African women and your ability to project and embrace that in the most affective way. I represented South Sudan and did extremely well for myself and my community. I earned the title of 1st Runner Up (second place). Initially my reaction was to be okay and know that I tried my hardest because I earned awards that reflected my personality and efficiency in my participation. I earned the awards of Best Traditional and Most Dedicated. This then made me feel at ease; but there was still something that I was never able to get over and that is how I answered my final question. I was doing so well until the final question when my nerves kicked in and I did not give an answer that made me proud. The final question was along the lines of: knowing what Nelson Mandela has accomplished in his lifetime what does his legacy mean to you?
Now, after three years of growth and experience this is how I would answer:
Nelson Mandela is known to be a Freedom Fighter; to me he is the epitome of what it means to be a just, loving and civil human being. Many people want to be remembered when they pass on, Mandela is not one to be remembered only at passing rather he is one to acknowledge and respect the existence of every day as he paved mountains alongside others for the lives of Africans and minorities. Nelson Mandela may have been laid to rest but his existence is represented through his legacy; and that, will surely never die.
Mandela, this is the name of my older brother. Mandela Ukele Nicola Bringi, the name was not just given by fluke, it was given through honour. Though I never got the chance to meet Nelson Mandela personally. I have been blessed to have Mandela as a name a call every day. Now this, is a legacy.
There is so much to write about that I cannot seem to write about anything. I just want to be able to share my whole experience and have you see and feel all the amazing moments I’ve had while being in South Africa …but I can’t. I mean, I can easily show videos and photos of some of these moments, but in order to understand what it really feels like to be surrounded by selfless children; children who care for you and appreciate your attention, it is only your presence that will allow you that experience.
As you know, I am currently working as a Social Worker/ Youth Development Worker. I love my role and I am very excited about introducing some projects that I’ve initiated at the school and with Ukulapha.
I love my girl groups, I’ve been a part of so many that I myself along with a few other girls created our own in Toronto, Ontario; Generation of Leaders. Generation of Leaders is currently focused on the South Sudanese community, a program built by Africans for Africans in hopes or reestablishing unity within our communities. We focused on women because there is an important and powerful force created, driven and embodied when women come together. Now through Ukulapha here in South Africa we’ve organized a Generation of Leaders: South Africa at Slangspruit Primary School and will be hosting a Women’s Summit before I leave back to Canada. This has become a great leadership program, which is meant to be sustainable and done for the community by the community. My mission before I leave is to make sure there is consistency and that we have leaders in the community working together with Ukulapha to maintain the program.
We didn’t leave our boys out either. I’ve come up with a Boys Leadership Group that has a smaller number of participants than Generation of Leaders. We are working with troubled boys who are at risk of being involved in gang activity and other various issues in the community. All the children we work with have strong personalities, yet are very different. These boys have hopes and dreams but surely need guidance. With cases like these it is important to have someone who can relate to them and their experiences to facilitate the process effectively. We officially have a co-facilitator by the name of Clement Ntuli. To describe and speak about how amazing Clement is and how influential and remarkable his story is, it would require a full lengthy blog post. My next blog will feature Clement!! The hope is to create an art based leadership/mentorship group and involve boys from the community and neighbouring high schools to be mentors.
Sustainability is key when entering positions like international internships. Remaining conscious that you will not always be there is important. In order to encourage development we must engage the community and allow them to build and work for themselves, then they will truly thrive and prosper.
While I was in high school I continued a tradition that my elder sister started when she attended Mother Teresa Secondary, and that was to hold Black History Month assemblies every year. This was not only an opportunity to respect the history of our people, but it was also the only way we felt we could educate students about what it meant to be black in the west, as well as to learn about some of the history that was forgotten and never inserted in our history books. I love to teach! I’ve also had the privilege of teaching Black History at a middle school in Toronto, grade 6-8. There have been many different opportunities I’ve had to teach both formally and informally. The reason I’m mentioning these experiences is because teaching has been the highlight of my first week in South Africa.
We arrived and met the amazing Principle of Slangspruit Primary School, Mr. Msomi. We also met the wonderful teachers that we would be working with directly. On our first day we were introduced to each class one by one, as we entered a classroom the students would all rise from their seats and in harmony say; “Good morning Educators”, we would respond back “good morning, how are you?”, they would respond “we are fine, thank you and how are you teachers?”, we would then respond back kindly. It was so beautiful and impressive to see the amount of discipline and respect that is taught and maintained in the school; even the children in the first grade greeted us in the same manner.
I was placed in the grade 5 class for the first week and until we settle into our positions. The children are taught in Zulu from grade R (kindergarten) to grade 3, grade 4 and 5 are the transition years where everything switches into English and the students are still adjusting; grade 6 and 7 is pure English and the students are pretty much well versed in both English and Zulu. Being in the grade 5 English classes I had to remember that the students might still struggle to understand and speak in English. There were challenges I was not fully prepared to encounter and may have gone over my head in terms of preparation. So here I am trying to communicate in English and having it turn into a mini broken telephone game. I would speak in English and many would respond back in Zulu, I then reminded the class that “I only speak English”, but that was not acceptable.
Throughout the week I came to understand that the students were a bit confused by my appearance and my inability to speak Zulu. I had a student raise her hand for help, she wanted to know whether the exercises on both sides of the workbook needed to be completed and was pointing as she was asking me. Once class was over a group of girls came to me and firmly stated; “you speak Zulu”, I clarified that I did not. The student that had asked me about the exercises said, “I asked you the question in Zulu and you responded correct”, I hadn’t even noticed what language she was speaking in when she asked me her question because she was pointing and made it obvious.
Mrs. Ngcobo, the lovely teacher I am working with shared with me that many students had been asking her why I do not speak Zulu; that I must understand and not speak, that I look like them so I must be able to speak. Mrs. Ngcobo had to remind the class that I only speak English and that I’ve come from Canada not from their local community, which is all they knew; they didn’t know that people who looked like them lived anywhere else.
By day three I was teaching on my own, not only was it challenging because of the inability to communicate efficiently through language; the most challenging part was to keep the learners engaged when they could not understand me well. At least there would be a chance for Mrs. Ngcobo to translate in Zulu if they could not understand, but for me – this was a heck of a challenge. So the experience that I mentioned starting this blog did not really apply in this case, this is a total new challenge. Luckily there were a couple students in each grade five class who ultimately felt bad for me and would translate to the class.
The week ended with me getting many hugs and love notes from wonderful students in my classes + a remarkable Zulu dance lesson. Check out the video Below!!