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“I can share so much information about Africa”
– by Valerie Viban, Linda Engel
Valerie, you work as a volunteer for the “Partnership with Africa Foundation” in Potsdam. What does the foundation do?
It initiates different projects between Germany and various African countries, by mostly focusing on their civil societies. We try to disseminate correct information about African countries in Germany and vice versa. The foundation also promotes cultural exchanges.
What is your job within the foundation?
Throughout the year I liaised with a lot of African organisations and worked on different projects. For example, we are setting up an exchange programme between schools in Namibia and Potsdam. I created the content for some learning modules about the colonial history of both countries. I also helped organise an event for the festivities during the anniversary of German unification in Dresden last October. Together with Dynamo Dresden, the local football team, we informed Germans about African football players in Europe.
Unfortunately, the anniversary of German unification was overshadowed by xenophobic demonstrations in Dresden. How did you feel?
I stayed in Dresden for three days. The first two days I enjoyed very much, but the third day was horrible with all the rallies. I was even insulted while performing with our “diversity choir”, with participants from all over the world.
Did you face racial prejudice as a Cameroonian in Germany?
No, in general I was perfectly at peace, and this was probably the most memorable year of my life. I am in a wonderful host family in Potsdam who I consider my own family by now, and I have great colleagues that helped me when I struggled with the language in the beginning. In my time here I also lost some stereotypes I had about the country. In Cameroon, there is this picture about Germans being stern, cool and unfriendly. In reality Germans are not unfriendly, but they need some time to make friends.
In social media you call yourself an activist. What does that mean?
I am socially very active and try to advocate for things that are neglected by society. One thing I am fighting for is to improve the quality of education. I am inspired by my own story. I grew up in a village without running water and electricity. But my father gave me this small library, and I started to read when I was five years old. Now I promote reading, especially in rural areas of Cameroon. Together with other people, I also started to lobby to free Cameroonian girls from Kuwait. Thousands of young girls leave for Kuwait with the promise of a good job. Once they are in Kuwait, they are forced to work as domestic helpers and don’t have the means to come back. We wanted the Cameroonian government to take action and prevent this form of human trafficking.
What can your host organisation learn from you?
I can share so much information about Africa in general and of course about Cameroon. Most of the staff have not been to Africa, and I can give them first-hand information. In my free time I participated in a film project called “draufsicht”. We produced short movies about development-related topics and also went to Cameroon. Some of the short documentaries are already available on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Draufsichtable.
What will you take home after your German experience?
I realised that the German way of preparing workshops is more practical. In Cameroon we have a preference for power point presentations. In Germany, I learned to use role play and pin boards, and I will integrate them in my future work. For myself I will take home the “planning lesson”. My life is now run by a small book, my diary. I also like the direct communication Germans use, putting things straight and simple. I will try to do the same in Cameroon, and will also teach others, if they like. I also learned to be more liberal and tolerant. Of course, you can only change your immediate circle and not the whole country.