‘We see everyone as our family’

| Rense Kuipers

The African International Student Association, AFRISA in short, celebrates its founding this evening at the SmartXP lab. This inaugural ceremony is the official start of the very first African student association at the UT.

Board members Blondina Massunda (public officer, pictured left) and Yvan Nde de Mbah (treasurer, right) talk about the first steps and ambitions of AFRISA.

Why this new association?

Blondina: ‘I was raised in Germany, but my roots are in Angola. Growing up in Germany, I was surrounded by other people with African roots. When I came to study here, I couldn’t find an African community. We are basically all spread throughout the campus.’

Yvan: ‘My experience was quite similar. When I started my study Electrical Engineering last year, I was literally the only student from Cameroon on campus. We are an international university, but I felt a lack in the sense of belonging.’

So, it was about time to start AFRISA?

Yvan: ‘Indeed! Of course, the UT has the Kick-In and a buddy program, but after that it all falls a bit flat, since there wasn’t a community representing Africa. Until now, that is.’

Blondina: ‘When I went to a party a few months ago, I heard of someone who wanted to start an African association here. Since then, umbrella association UniTe helped us in facilitating our founding. After the Kick-In, we hosted a barbecue. We thought that maybe about twenty people would attend, but we had sixty people there. Which is roughly the amount of people who want to become a member, already.’

What are the goals and ambitions of AFRISA?

Blondina: ‘In the short term, it’s all about taking baby steps. We have a board and five committees in place. For instance, to host cultural events for dancing, or an African food festival. But also a committee that will take the lead in hosting the more serious talks and debates. We’re going for a mix of fun and happiness and serious and professional.’

Yvan: ‘We’re now also in the process of being Student Union-recognized. Another one of our baby steps is to make students who arrive at the UT feel right at home. For most of us, this is the first time we travel out of Africa, even outside of our own countries. You need a community where you feel welcome right from the start.

Our long-term ambitions are to make AFRISA grow into something similar as the Erasmus Student Network. We believe that we can be huge in ten to twenty years. But first, we need to have a really strong foundation to build on.’

With this world association, you not only represent a country, but an entire continent. Does that make it harder of easier to form a tight community?

Yvan: ‘I think we have several advantages, compared to associations that only focus on specific countries. For instance, ITC as a very international faculty also has a Kenyan association, but people who are not from Kenya won’t be very inclined to join. Besides, we only speak English and don’t switch to local languages. This will make it easier for everyone to feel welcome and to join our association.’

Blondina: ‘And we do really mean everyone. Not only students from Africa. That’s why our slogan is Ubuntu: I am, because we are. It’s an African philosophy about the sense of humanity and us all being connected. It’s not about being Dutch or African, or from any other nationality or ethnical background for that sake. We aim to be more than just an African association.’

Yvan: ‘Even though Africa is a vast and diverse continent, I think the main African value is that we see everyone as our family. We don’t separate. If you have a problem, that is also immediately my problem. We are all brothers and sisters.’

The inaugural celebration of AFRISA starts at 6pm at the SmartXP Lab (Zilverling).

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