Challenging Conventional Wisdom on Africa
Picture by Anatoliy Parshikov
When I first heard about TEDxEuston in 2010, I thought ‘these people have come again, why are they organizing ‘African’ events like this in London’ In 2011, a friend of mine was coming in from the States and had expressed a wish to attend the event, I thought it might be good for networking purposes for HIM, I’m not the best networker in the world. Unfortunately we could not make it, and I started following the organization on twitter just to get an idea of what they were about and possibly to criticize them even more.
As I got more and more information about TEDxEuston, my perception began to change but I still had a lot of misgivings. When I saw the speaker line-up, I got excited! I might actually go for this event, I had thought. People I looked forward to hearing from were Chimamanda, Jepchumba and Cobhams (Storytelling, Design and Music, my passions). Being the person I am, I like to get involved in helping where ever I can lend a hand and when I saw the call for social media volunteers, I immediately took the step. Right now, I look back and see what could have been done better, I only hope for the opportunity to apply these lessons in the 2013 version.
As I handed guests their name-tags at the reception of the Mermaid center in Blackfriars, I realised I was part of something big and the enthusiasm I saw across the faces that came up to me despite the cold, warmed my heart. The previous weekend, we (volunteers and team members) had spent time putting together ‘goodie’ bags and that was the first time I met the organisers, I couldn’t believe they were 99% Nigerian and without airs, eh! this was new to me. The event was sold out, so it was hardly a surprise when people came up to the reception thinking they could get free/new tickets.
After welcoming up to 400 people, we went to man respective posts. Given I was with the social media team, we had a twitter and a feedback wall set up, after I went to listen to the talks.
We Are All Leaders
Session 1: 10:30 am to 1:40 pm
I had just missed a huge part of Albie Sachs talk, but as I settled in, there was a standing ovation! What a great start. Soon after, AminaAz Zubair came up to speak, she told her story in a very compelling manner about why we should care…because people matter. What I got out of it was, even in the midst of corruption, it is possible to plant a seed, a seed of hope which can grow and bear great fruits. ACTION! ACTION!! ACTION!! we have to DO, no matter how small it is, DO. “We talk about great people; those great people started as small people”
We then got to watch a TED talk by Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Peace Activist. I was in tears at the end, and I could feel my hope being revived. Just imagine! I thought, if we each helped one person and that person helped just one person, the things we could do! I said a silent prayer for strength to help people and that we don’t forget the things we learn here.
Performance: Inua Ellams, multi-talented person gave us three poems based on Love, Prayer/Faith and Urban spaces. The poems made us laugh, shed a tear and think.
Alcinda Honwana spoke about young people in Africa, their relationships with each other and with work. My feeling from this was that, most young people just do not know where to apply their skills. I strongly believe we need an education overhaul. Most of us are taught to follow the path to a job, marriage, kids and death. Youths don’t know what it means to be creative and this is something that should be nurtured from childhood.
It was World AIDS Day also, so we had Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma who is living with HIV to remind us of the importance of getting tested and how we can have an AIDS-free generation. Very moving. I’ve had myself tested various times but not in a few years now, it’s a great reminder!
I was tweeting and retweeting alot at this point because there was so much of a buzz growing in the hall #TEDxEuston was allover the place. Frank Njenga came up next and gave a moving account of what it means to be a Grandfather and how that changes one’s life and thoughts. He touched on the importance of cross generational wisdom from grandparents and making anticipatory change in the world. We were treated to a video of childhood giggles that threatened to melt me. It was really engaging and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t bored after listening to talks for more than 2hrs. ‘Without grandparents, society would have remained primitive’ He said while challenging us to embrace collectivism and to Design (my term) for our grandkids.
We then got another TED talk video by Faith Jegede, I had watched this video just about two weeks earlier but the message wasn’t old. I thought about my own experiences with Autistic children close to me and how personally I had been called all sorts of names growing up and even now, weird, strange, weird. I am grateful that no one has ever called me normal. “The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.” “The pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential.” Some of the poignant words she gave to us.
The last speaker for this session was Queen Sylvia Nagginda! HRH, I really really wanted to hear what an African queen had to say. She told us her story which was like a modern day Cinderella tale but we were finally going to hear how the ever after went. She spoke in the most graceful manner about how our culture is relevant to our progress and the fact that Western paradigms fail to deliver development for Africa. I am glad events like TEDxEuston are championing the cause of developing local solutions for our local problems. Development for the people by the people.
By now, my hands were red from clapping and tweeting, but I had to hurry out of the hall to monitor the social media updates and get feedback from people as they made their way to lunch after the first session. Probably wasn’t the best time to ask people as someone wrote on our board, ‘I want Plantain and Chin-Chin’ oh dear!