Week celebrates African cultures

by Sam Rauschenfels | 5/9/12 10:00pm

To replace the single night of African cultural celebration that took place last year, Students for Africa has launched a full week of events this week designed to celebrate the diverse peoples and countries of Africa and to educate the Dartmouth community.

The organization decided to extend the annual Africa Night event to an Africa Week following discussions at a general meeting during Winter term. Members felt that Africa a large continent with a range of groups and cultures simply could not be sufficiently honored in one night, Stella Safari '13, co-president of Students for Africa and one of the week's organizers, said.

"We wanted to do something different and something that's bigger," she said.

After deciding to extend the African showcase, members began brainstorming ideas for the week and creating student boards for possible events. The organization as a whole decided on the final event lineup, choosing events that members felt could be executed successfully and that would spread knowledge about the continent.

"There's a lack of perspective about Africa, especially from African students, on this campus," she said. "We really want to showcase that Africa is a diverse place. We're lots of different countries and lots of different cultures."

Safari said that she and other Students for Africa members aimed to attract a large, diverse audience by planning events with a broad appeal.

The week's events began on Sunday with AfriFEST, modeled after festivals Safari said she had attended in Washington, D.C. Over 40 people attended, according to Safari.

"I think that set the tone for the rest of the week," she said.

The group strived to present different parts of African culture, including the traditions and foods of different countries, according to Nelly Cubahiro '13, Students for Africa vice president for programming.

On Monday, the group sponsored a lecture about emerging economies in Africa, delivered by chief economist at the United States Agency for International Development Steven Radelet. Attendees of the event "a different set of audience members" than those attending AfriFEST filled Haldeman Center 041, Safari said.

Radelet discussed instances of African countries helping themselves to develop instead of relying on assistance from Western nations, Cubahiro said.

"There are countries that are organically using their own resources and striving to create organic economic systems," Cubahiro said.

Tuesday featured a panel of students including several from Tuck School of Business to discuss work they had completed in Africa. Held in the Rockefeller Center, the panel allowed students to share a variety of experiences and personal stories, from jobs in banking to the obstacles of adjusting to different cultures, according to Cubahiro.

Audience members were able to engage directly with the panelists, creating an "intimate" environment, Safari said.

The group hosted another panel on Wednesday that consisted of African students, who discussed their decisions to attend Dartmouth and the ways in which their African heritage influences their lives and views. Panelists offered their perspectives on finding a sense of "place" at Dartmouth and on the ways America differed from their expectations, Cubahiro said.

Erica Kafwimi '13, who spoke at both student panels, described her journey to Dartmouth and her experiences working in her home country of Tanzania. Kafwimi chose Dartmouth at the request of her parents, who wanted her to attend an Ivy League institution.

Businesses function very differently in Africa than in the United States, according to Kafwimi. In Africa, transactions are based heavily on personal relationships, which Kafwimi said affects industries like banking.

"You have to invest in relationships and get to know [customers] on a personal level," she said.

Kafwimi said she plans to return to Tanzania after graduation and use her pre-health and economics education to work in the medical research field.

Dipo Fasawe '14 also shared his journey to Dartmouth from his home in Nigeria. Fasawe said he first went to school in Nigeria and then was selected to spend three years at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Students from throughout the continent attended the Academy, and his experiences made him "well aware" of his identity, Fasawe said.

"There was really nothing special about my journey to Dartmouth," he said, adding that he applied and was accepted to the College in the same fashion as any other student.

Safari and Cubahiro said that events have so far been successful, seeing positive audience turnouts.

"That's something that's been very surprising to me, the types of people showing up to the events," Safari said. "I think it's a wonderful success on our behalf."

Events for the rest of the week include a lecture scheduled for Thursday night to be delivered by Yves Muya, a Congolese activist and storyteller. Muya will speak about the dangers of hearing only one side or view of a story.

"What we are hoping to accomplish with that particular event is to start a dialogue and a sense that there are many different sides to the continent," Cubahiro said.

Africa Week will end with an Africa Night celebration featuring dance, fashion, food and music in Collis Common Ground on Friday.

Cubahiro and Safari both expressed excitement for the final night of Africa Week, and Cubahiro said that attending Africa Night during her freshman year inspired her to become involved with Students for Africa.

"We have a lot lined up," Cubahiro said about the final event. "It's always an exciting culmination."

Cubahiro is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.