31 August 2020

Churchill Fellowship – an investment of a lifetime – glad I did it

About 6 years ago, I was keen to have a purposeful travel, study, have some good time, come back, reflect, and use my learning to better myself and my contribution to society. Although I was keen to do all these, I didn’t know how.  I also didn’t have enough resources. As I did some research online, I came across the Churchill Fellowship, the criteria of which I fully met. Hence, I decided to try it. I thought it was better to try and fail than to regret of not having done it. I hence put in my first application in 2014 which was not successful. Although I didn’t make it the first time around, I didn’t lose hope. I used it as an opportunity to learn. I thus decided to wait for some time and try again after organising myself and my application better than the first time around.

In May 2017, I was in the USA doing a short course on leadership in a program entitled the ‘Global Change Agents’ at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University when I received an email from Neil Jameson CBE, the then Executive Director of Citizens UK, encouraging staff members to apply for the fellowship. Neil knows better than most of us about the fellowship as he himself was a fellow in 1977 which helped him to travel to the USA, meet veteran Community Organisers, reflect on Community Organising in the USA and consequently sow the seeds for Community Organising in the UK where he established Citizens UK in 1989. That email from Neil ignited fire in my belly. It encouraged me to rethink and try Churchill Fellowship again. I flagged the email and waited for some time. This time around, I was more purposeful, focused and knew where to concentrate on and why. Luckily, I even know good colleagues who had succeeded with their fellowship, who all advised me to give it a try. I knew what I was going to do if I succeeded. By the time I was about to put in my application,  I was highly involved in Refugees Welcome movement in the United Kingdom and my fellowship was how I could strengthen my understanding of the sector. I organised my application better than the first time around and submitted it in good time

After I had submitted my application, I kept doing some research on what to do, who to meet and when to travel hoping that I would succeed this time around. It was a good dream to dream; hope to hope and aspirations to aspire. Asking myself what if I was awarded? What could I do? Yes, it all paid off. When I got that email from Winston Churchill Memorial Trust notifying me that I was successful, I had the most emotional moment. Cries with emotions. Smiles in the streets. Yes I did it. Although I was preparing myself for the good news, it was still unbelievable. I had in the past been awarded fellowships, but the emotional feeling this time was different. I had, however, to wait for some time to make the news public as per the conditions attached. As a social media enthusiast and keen to share these sort of news to friends and allies, the wait until the embargo was lifted was challenging, but something all fellows had to deal with.

My Churchill Fellowship took me to Canada to study about its decades long Refugee Sponsorship program.  As my fellowship was more focused and around my job responsibilities and interests, the contribution of the fellowship was enormous. The fellowship equipped me with what I needed to know about the Refugee Sponsorship scheme. To see why Canada’s refugee sponsorship program is successful and what we could bring over to the UK and see how we could use the learning to better our Community Sponsorship program. I am now at stage where I can use my Churchill Fellowship learning and my lived experiences to contribute in the Refugee Welcome movement. I was once an asylum seeker, a detainee and had gone through many challenges in my journeys to sanctuary, but the learning in these journeys were instrumental. Hope and perseverance have taken me so far.  I am now director of UK Welcomes Refugees, which is all about Building Community Sponsorship of Refugees Together with others. Lots of credit to my Churchill Fellowship. Glad I did it. It was indeed a blessing.

Please find my Churchill Fellowship report, HERE

11 August 2020

It is compassion and safe routes that is needed more

As our TV screens, newspapers and social media outlets bring more and more atrocious news about the worsening refugee crisis, there is a natural call for us to do the decent thing whilst we are still able to do so. All we need is compassion and safe routes, not dehumanising of fellow humans. After all these people are the most vulnerable in our collective human family and deserve our love, empathy, and care as they have already been through lots of hardships.

The desperation of people on the move and their travels through extremely risky situations is a stark reminder that people will take any risk to go out of the situation they are in unless we have safe and legal routes to help them. One of my Syrian friends often says, “You won’t leave home unless home has the mouth of a shark.” If anybody thinks all those taking risks to cross the English channel in dinghies and other smaller boats should have a second thought, what should that be? Die falling into the mouths of sharks or run away to go into the unknown over the known danger? It is very natural to run for safety. Because hope is what almost everybody has. Hoping for better days and life despite all the challenges and sufferings of the day.

I have read and heard many good initiatives and ideas on what could and should be done to address the crisis. The need for being proactive and collaborative. The need for addressing our collective human responsibilities and moral obligations in the sense of urgency and with more plans in the long run.  I have also read and heard many disheartening stuffs in the past few days. As disheartening as the words are, I am not going to repeat them because I don’t believe they represent the country I know is the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that there are many great people in this country who are doing everything possible to support fellow asylum seekers and migrants. People always on the right side of history. I am a living testament and I wholeheartedly believe the good outweighs. I feel blessed to have had the support of many wonderful people in my life.

I grew up listening to the BBC; watching premier league; supporting England in world cup competitions because of the influence of the premier league on me; reading the best of Shakespeare; learning about one of the most civilised democracies and human rights records. Hence coming and seeking asylum in this country was natural for me when I needed protection and had to flee. People have reasons why they take all those perilous journeys. Let us listen to them as well. Let us give chance to fellow humans to rebuild their lives and unpack their potentials. It may take time, but we will be rewarded with all our good investment.

There is also some fact to know about our immigration system because some people think the immigration system to be the softest ever, which is not my experience as many fellow asylum seekers and refugees will testify similarly. There are lots of ups and downs going through the immigration system. It is not all a 4*/5* hotel life as mentioned by some. I have seen the good and the bad of our immigration system.

It is time to rethink. To revisit our system. To check as to when all the safe and legal routes would be open. How we can widen the welcome and meet the expectation and respect Britain has globally. To also make sure people seeking protection are given the protection they deserve. To make sure those stuck in the system are properly dealt with. Yes, calling for more compassion and positive actions. Finding ways to bring wider civil society, businesses, and others on board so that we all contribute to the Refugees Welcome work through schemes like Community Sponsorship of Refugees. It takes us all to change the course. And the time is now.

31 July 2020

Rush and Run - Beautiful London

Rush and run

Everybody runs,

Run, run, run.

Nobody says hi,

Or expects same.

They still run,

Rush and run,

Push and pass,

Run on stairs,

On escalators,

In the streets.

Some run down,

Others run up.

Some run in,

Others run out,

Some run east,

While others west.

Still others run

South or north

They all run,

Rush and run

The beauty of rush hours,

The beauty of busyness.

Run, run, run

Always run

Missing the rush hours in the beautiful London.

18 July 2020

It is indeed our dam – GERD the pacifier and pride of Ethiopians

Ethiopia, the land of origins, as Ethiopians often call it, is a landlocked country with lots of untouched and unused natural resources. It has got lots of rivers and water resources, but it is yet to use one of its biggest, the Blue Nile – Abay River as Ethiopia has just finalised building the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam - GERD.

GERD is expected to change the lives of millions in Ethiopia and countries in East and horn of Africa once fully functional. It will indeed be a game changer and bring Ethiopia out of poverty. It is going to be crucial for Ethiopia’s economic growth and its path towards prosperity. More than 60 million Ethiopians will have access to basic electricity. It will also bring investments in different sectors including tourism, fisheries, and water transport. It is expected to reduce risk of flood in the Sudan. Despite all the promising benefits of the GERD, there is still a lot to do to see all these into practice.

Agreement with upstream countries, Sudan, and Egypt on a fair and equitable share of the Nile River should be reached at in the not too-distant-future. Ethiopia has always been ready for that, but the much sought and expected agreement could not be reached at straightforwardly as the upstream countries seem to be stuck in their colonial era agreements of 1929 and 1959 and the benefits the old and outdated agreement grants them, especially to Egypt.  In this day and age, it is unreasonable and injudicious of the upstream countries to expect Ethiopia to agree to a monopoly over the Nile waters based on the colonial era agreements signed among Egypt, Sudan and Britain, to which Ethiopia is not a signatory. Ethiopia has no intention of hurting any country but has clear, legitimate and moral demands here. Honourable use of its water resources. Equitable share of Nile waters. Respecting Ethiopia’s sovereign rights. Meeting its developmental needs and thriving together with others including upstream countries. In general terms, it is all about Mutual Benefits, Reciprocity, and Sovereign Equality. This is 21st century, where we are interdependent on one-another and should cooperate; but that cooperation should be mutually sought based on mutual interests. It is not time for one side wins all and others remain bystanders.

For Ethiopians GERD is a pacifier. It is a sign of national pride that brings Ethiopians together. In fact, their pride has many reasons. More than anything else, Ethiopians have made financial sacrifices. The  cost of the dam, which is estimated to be more than $5billion has been largely covered by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia.  Hence there is a sense of ownership of the biggest developmental work Ethiopia has undertaken. GERD is a unifier and has almost no political boundaries amongst Ethiopians. For Ethiopians both in Ethiopia and the diaspora, GERD is more than a project. It is more than a political interest. It is about belongingness. It is about the Ethiopian identity.

The social media campaign by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia under the hashtag #ItsMyDam brought together activists, experts, politicians, commentators and those in love with the land of origins. Here are a few posts on twitter globally including one from the wonderful and creative Anna Chojnicka
The Campaign also brought the attention of international media, here is one from Turkish TV
The time is now for an agreement and equitable share of the Nile waters. It is all about good will, which Ethiopia has in abundance. Time for compromise and agreement as we have past the one party wins all era. The GERD - the unifier is at its important milestone. Ethiopia is determined, ready and willing. Better days ahead for all of us.

25 May 2020

Plucky and benevolent woman behind the success stories of Community Organising dies from Covid19

Former colleagues and friends of Josephine Mukanjira, who died from Covid19 complications in Mid-April, pay tributes to a stupendous woman who was behind the many success stories of Community Organising in the UK. “Jo was simply the pillar of community organising and the backbone of our work” said one former colleague from Citizens UK, a charity that organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good.

Josephine Mukanjira descended from East Africa and had connections both to Uganda and Rwanda. Jo was very close to her mum and her extended family who live in Uganda and are devastated by the untimely tragic death of a woman who was the beacon of hope for the family. Jo, who had been in the UK for a long time, worked for Citizens UK for over 12 years in different capacities until September 2019 when she left the organisation. In the past few months, Jo worked for an organisation as an accountant. Just a few days before her untimely departure, Jo joined a prominent Chartered Governance organisation in the City of London, but Covid19 stole this woman of courage and her dreams were cut short. Neil Jameson, founder and former Executive Director of Citizens UK, who has been the backbone of the farewell organising for Josephine said,Jo will be remembered as one of the kindest, most wiling and most loyal colleagues we had through those tough years of growth and challenge. She looked out for colleagues and rarely said ‘NO’. The very best of humanity and quiet, inspirational leader. So much missed. RIP Josephine

Stephanie Leonard, tweeted, “Josie ensured my first month’s salary was paid up front so I could pay my rent when I started my job at CUK. She knew I needed help and went out of her way to support me. She always checked in on me when I would come to the office. She was such a gorgeous person. Such awful news.” Whereas another former colleague, Lydia Rye said in a tweet, “Jo was warm and terrifying (read my expenses were always late) in equal measure and my favourite person to gossip outside assemblies with. I cannot imagine being at CUK without her. Such desperately sad news.” Many other colleagues and community leaders used the social media platforms to pay their tributes among which are the following, Ana Franca-Ferreira, tweeted “Met Jo at 17 as a young intern. Saw her again at 24 at my first professional job, she made me feel at home. Every time I was in the office and Jo was there, I was at home. Heartbroken that she has gone but have the certainty that she rests with God. Thanks for your life Jo!” Another former colleague, Dermot Bryers tweeted, “So, so sad. I always loved seeing Jo when I came to Cavell Street. Love and condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.

Among those who used twitter to pay tributes was, Bethan Angharad Lant, “I adored Josephine. She had such natural warmth. I looked forward to seeing her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.” Others went onto Facebook to pay their respects. Paul Regan, one of the pioneers of Community Organising in the UK said, “This is a complete shock. Such kind and positive person. I find it difficult to believe. RIP Jo”. Whereas Rabbi Janet Darley, who also shared prayer and religious reflection at the zoom memorial, wrote on Facebook, “Such sad news. Such a lovely person. May her soul be bound up in the gathering of life. Her memory will surely be a blessing to all who knew and loved her”. Another former colleague and close friend, Emmanuel Gotora wrote on Facebook, “We’ve lost a true gem. Josie was a caring and kind-hearted colleague and much loved by all at Citizens UK. She had a wicked sense of humour and always had time to talk no matter how busy things were. Her calm presence greeted many of us at the office. She always had a smile and a never-ending secret stash of chocolate which she was always happy to share. Josephine was more than a work colleague - she was a friend - a rare combination. She loved being with people and always went above and beyond to lend a hand when needed. She loved a game of football too! I’ll always remember the football games in Weavers’ Field. I will miss you my dear friend Josie - rest in peace.”

Many people around the country meet their local community organisers, but there was one person behind these organisers, Jo. Some of her former colleagues used to even call her as, ‘organiser of organisers’. More tributes and reactions from colleagues and friends on twitter HERE and on Facebook HERE

Devastated and shocked by the sudden death of Jo, old and new colleagues, and friends joined the memorial zoom organised to commemorate her life on Tuesday 28th April. Fitting tributes and stories of a remarkable woman were shared by those who joined the memorial where we also had heart touching hymn and song, ‘Great is they faithfulness’ and ‘Who will speak if we don’t?’ led by Bernadette Farrell, hymnographer, composer of Catholic liturgical music and veteran Community Organiser. We were also joined by Jo’s mum and extended family from Uganda, who were indeed very grateful for the memorial service held in honour of their loved one. The memorial was also a reminder that much should be done to support Jo’s family as they mainly relied on her financial support following the death of her 2 brothers in the past few years. We have, therefore, launched a fundraiser to give Jo the best send-off she very much deserves. We are also keen to help her mum and the kids Jo was sponsoring in schools in Uganda. Here is the GoFundMe page, Paying Respect to Jo. Please donate and share. It is all paying back to a woman that helped many in the fight for social justice.  

Churchill Fellowship – an investment of a lifetime – glad I did it

Abou t 6 years ago, I was keen to have a purposeful travel, study, have some good time, come back, reflect, an d use my learning to better m...