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To organise and blend African voices on our campus and establish a cross-continental exchange: with that ambitious mission statement the newly created African Student Community Platform (ASCoP) is off to a promising start! A delegation of fifteen representatives already met with rector Caroline Pauwels and on the 25th of May you could find the community barbecuing on campus in celebration of African Liberation Day. We sat down with three of ASCoP’s members in what became an inspiring and thought-provoking conversation.
Tinos Chimondo (Zimbabwean), Jimmy Hendry Nzally and Omar N Cham (both Gambian) share a common devotion to African culture which they want to spread through the creation of an African community on our university. “We hold our culture dear, and the VUB provides an enabling platform for a cross-cultural breeding. As catalysts for change, we understand the stakes in Africa are high and obtaining a degree will not only suffice to transform the continent. We need to organise ourselves to transform the continent’s future. This generation is hungry for change, conscious of its rights and wants a progressive Africa!”
In the participatory model of the VUB, the African students say they find recognition and the ideal practice ground for the exercise in democracy that awaits them at home. While in their short time at our university some have developed a strong sense of belonging, the African Student Community is aware of the challenges and the cultural shocks other African students face in their confrontation with Western society. “Hence the need for us to form a separate organisation in close collaboration with the International Student Platform (ISP). To make ourselves effective and recognizable, we need to form a separate group.”
Apparently, European expats and the Flemish hipsters of the Dansaert neighborhood, are not the only groups in Brussels who tend to cherish the comfort bubble: “We notice African students are sometimes hesitant to be part of the campus life, express themselves and make their problems known. We want to embolden and energise them, give them a voice and make that voice heard. We want to provoke them to participate, to integrate without losing their authenticity, to blend but from an African point of view.”
By founding the African Student Community Platform, the students want to initiate an exchange between South and North and reinforce both the VUB and the universities in Africa. Too often, this exchange has been unbalanced and one-sided. “Everything is enrooted in history, but we’re tired of reducing everything to colonialism. We want to move on, interact with everyone, be part of the global community. Information is the key to working together across different cultures and continents. Without that knowledge, we succumb to stereotypes and fear each other for the unknown.”
The ASCoP wants to reach out to all VUB-students willing to learn more about Africa. The idea is to engage with fellow-students by organising exhibitions that celebrate African diversity, by advising students in their travels around the continent and by stimulating social entrepreneurship. By bringing Africa to the VUB and bridging the gap between the continents, they hope to share a common dream of a more united and righteous African society, far from the continent’s reputation in Europe as a region of civil war, famine and corruption.
But ASCoP will also bring the VUB to Africa and speak out for the VUB as “a multicultural centre that supports and listens to student voices”. Its graduated members can serve as ambassadors for the VUB in their respective African universities and establish partnerships and research collaborations.
Author: Joren Janssens