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In search of "good news" in Africa

In search of "good news" in Africa

Last December, when Ghana-born Toronto resident Amma Bonsu, Artsci’03, set out for Africa with two suitcases, her passport, and her video camera, she plunged headfirst into a long-held dream.
[photo of Amma Bonsu]Amma Bonsu

I wanted to travel with a purpose. To this end, last December I set off on a three-month African journey to seek out and interview people whose inspiring stories of resilience and success would debunk at least some popular misconceptions about this vibrant continent.

I was motivated by the nagging awareness that for too many years I’d been part of the chorus of Africa-born expatriates whose voices fall on deaf ears whenever we complain that western media focus on the negative aspects of African life. My mission was simple: to visit African countries whose image has been tarnished by reports of genocide, civil war, and political unrest. I wanted to report some good news stories from these places.

Because I was travelling alone and on a limited budget, many people warned me that my planned journey was impossible and dangerous. I was not deterred.

My first stop was Accra, the capital of my Ghanaian homeland. From there, I traveled on to Liberia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.

One of the most profound encounters of my trip happened in Kampala. To be truthful, the Ugandan capital’s notoriety, which of late stems from homophobia and albino killings, made me wonder if good news really does exist there. That was until I saw a sign for Reach Out, a Stephen Lewis Foundation-supported HIV out-patient centre that provides testing, anti-retroviral drugs, and counselling to HIV sufferers. No less important is that Reach Out helps to relieve the burden of shame and stigma of HIV while offering hope. I will never forget a woman I met there. Her name was Justine.

At the centre, I expected to see emaciated persons waiting to die. So I was surprised to meet Justine, a healthy-looking mother of 10. Indeed, the confidence in her stride and the optimism in her eyes contradicted the stereotypical image of the HIV-positive African.

Justine is a community activist, an educator, a caregiver to dying patients, and the primary provider for her extended family. Thanks to the support she receives from Reach Out, she refuses to be ostracized or slowed by her illness. She is the epitome of an African phenomenon called “Positively living.”

Rwanda was the final stop on my African odyssey. When my family in Ghana and Canada heard I was going there, they begged me not to. They feared for my safety in a country that had been in the headlines after the 1994 mass murder of the minority Tutsis by the Hutu majority. I went anyway. I wanted to learn the truth and to assess how far Rwanda had come since those dark days. I was astounded by what I found.

Kigali, the capital city, is organized, efficient, and clean. I wish I had the words to fully describe the beauty of the blue skies and green mountains that are the backdrop for the cleanest streets I’ve ever seen. I learned that on the last Saturday of each month, all citizens – including the democratically elected President Paul Kagame – spend hours sweeping the city. This gives you a sense of the level of commitment and togetherness that drive today’s Rwanda.

After I visited the church in Ntamara where hundreds of innocent Tutsis seeking refuge had been burned alive, I wanted to have an honest discussion about the genocide. The Rwandese I met opened up to me. They shared the dark details of their painful past, and they told me about the liberating power of forgiveness and reconciliation. I remain in awe of the beauty of this nation. I tell you, the country’s roads are paved with resilience, and its skies are painted with courage. The dignity and moral fortitude of the people make Rwanda one of the rising stars of Africa.

I returned home to Toronto jet-lagged and exhausted, but incredibly grateful. There are moments when I can’t believe I actually completed my trip. Then I watch the inspirational videos I shot of the war survivors, courageous women, and ambitious entrepreneurs who are redefining Africa.

You can share my adventures via my videos and my posts on www.ammazingseries.com

Amma Bonsu, who was the recipient of the 2010 QUAA Alumni Humanitarian Award, works for the Royal Bank of Canada.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2011-4 cover]