Cultural festivals, parades and International days – anyone who’s studied in China will be used to the numerous events held by the International Students Office on campus to encourage exchange amongst the countless nationalities on campus. Normally these events are pretty standard – but this year, Beijing Normal University’s African Students Union decided to do it big.
Black Livity China spoke to Samuel Ofosu Donyina, the current president of the Union and a talented Saxophonist on why BNU AFSU chose to put on a show and what role African students can play in moulding the image of the African continent and her people.
Sam begins by telling us that the association initially started way back in 2009. ‘The objective’ he recalls ‘was to bring all Africans together under one umbrella to socialise and to fight for a common goal of projecting an accurate image of Africa in our school and also across China. The main purpose was for us to be known as one people, fighting for the common interest of all African people.’
The association started to take shape in 2009 according to Sam, who confirms that it took until 2018 for them to gain official recognition and be inaugurated under the university. ‘We don’t have an African studies department as some other universities do but we still manage to hold our own programs and we usually invite students from other universities to partake in [our activities]. All these help in projecting a good image of Africans, informing other international students how active we are and how we as Africans are ready to develop ourselves so as to develop our continent.’
It was this exact self-determination that would come to hand when planning their latest major performance at one of the biggest annual university-wide events.
Since their inauguration, Beijing Normal African Student Union has made it their mission to participate in the university’s International Student Night: ‘It’s a programme which brings together students from different countries and cultures to showcase the beauty of their culture’
‘We Africans believe we have a rich and unique culture, so every year, for the past ten years we have been taking part of this program to show people the uniqueness of African cultures and our continent.
Pausing for a moment, Sam continues: ‘What I have realised personally over the years is that, while many people have written about us, we are the best people to tell the beauty of who we are as Africans. We are the ones that live out the culture of the continent and we have it in us. We don’t need anyone else to do it on our behalf, we are the ones to tell it best.’
He explains that this was a huge part of the motivation behind both their latest performance and those from previous years.
It hasn’t been easy. Putting together the performance meant costume design¸ constant rehearsals in between class and other commitments plus coordination of several people. Yet Sam is satisfied that they achieved what they’d set out to do:
‘With this event, we hoped to tell our story in a unique way. And also to let people know that we are diverse – Africa is not a country as we have some 54 countries, all with their differences and specialities. It’s a vast continent; (Africa is bigger than China, India, the contiguous U.S. and most of Europe—combined! In total there are over 1.2 billion of us on the continent alone, and there is something unique about each and every one of us.
In celebrating the success of BNU AFSU, Sam reflects on some of the challenges he and other students represented by the union have experienced:
‘One of the biggest challenges is the culture shock that we face when we come here. Language, how we are understood – everything. Things are often perceived differently on both parts and the language barrier doesn’t help. Also, it has to do with letting our views made clear – I always meet Africans here who are frustrated about not being understood here, and I tell them it is to be expected because of our different upbringings and exposure.
And yet, in the face of these challenges, through the AFSU, African students at BNU have been able to find a home away from home: ‘The Union was started years ago but we were officially recognised as a Union by the University last year. In the same year, the Union was officially inaugurated and from that day forward we have been able to build a very strong and vibrant community and we are known for action, not only our words.
Looking ahead to this new year and decade, the future for AFSU looks bright with several activities being run to keep students engaged: ‘We have lots of activities that we hold here on the BNU campus as African Students. We hold workshops, orientation activities etc for African students and we hold a lot of programs around the integration of the African student community in BNU and also in China. I won’t pinpoint particular things but I’d like to tell people to stay connected as we have a lot of things in the pipeline in the coming days.
With a pan-African vision in mind, Sam believes that the future for African Students at BNU and across the nation would be greatly improved with unity. ‘We should collaborate with one another’, he emphasises, ‘to learn from each other since we all have our own unique peculiarities and capabilities.’
‘African Students Associations should be proactive in projecting the image of the motherland that we want to see by organising activities that will educate Africans towards the development of themselves and our continent.’
When asked if he has any further thoughts, Sam’s response comes almost instantly:
‘Africa is a great continent, a big continent, a resourceful and productive continent…when we come together there will be nothing we can’t achieve. We shouldn’t just talk, we should make things happen….and we must make take action.’
He beams ‘on behalf of the African Students Union at Beijing Normal University we wish the best to every African Students Union. Africans are visionaries, Africans are people who put words into action and we have the vision of development – we hope that Africa, through his grace, will live to see the kind of development that we wish to see through us!