Aim of Harambee Africa International Competition?

To Combat Stereotypes by Narrating Africa ‘Live’

Harambee Africa International
Participants in an educational program in Coreda, Cameroon Copyright Harambee Africa International

In an interview with Rossella Miranda, responsible for the Communication Area of ONLUS [Non-Profit Organization of Social Utility], Exaudi asked her what the principal aim is of the competition organized by Harambee Africa International.

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First of all, what is Harambee, word that means to “work together”?

 It’s an international association with headquarters in Rome and committees that work in Europe and in the United States. It was born in 2002 on the occasion of the Canonization of Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, Founder of the Opus Dei. The first objective is to support African entities that work in the development sector and in the field of education, promoting projects conceived and carried out by them. We select the proposals and take action to collect the necessary funds and then we monitor them to follow their development.

The second objective concerns communication, because the desire is to contribute to deepen information on Africa, which is generally very stereotyped.  We do it possibly by giving voice to Africans themselves, so that they tell the realities in which they live, to make themselves known and to overcome these stereotypes.

The International Harambee Award is inserted in this context. We are in the ninth edition; it is a biennial award dedicated to Italian and foreign video documentaries on the subject of Africa. In general, it has two sections, one for professional journalists and one of commercials reserved for young people. The purpose is to highlight positive stories of courage, of construction. Given the particular pandemic moment, we wanted to link this edition to the context we are all living and, therefore, the topic is, exceptionally, specific: “Resilience in the Time of Crisis: Stories of Courage in the Time of Pandemic.”

Undoubtedly, the difficulties are quite a few in the African Continent.

 In fact, vaccines are lacking, the numbers of those infected are not well known or, especially, the social and economic consequences, which make life more difficulty for people. However, despite everything, constructive reaction processes are being activated, which bring about important changes.

We had a demonstration of it in some way during the hardest period of lockdown. Every year we encourage some collaborators to write their reflections on subjects we suggest. Last year we asked them to recount their testimonies of that very particular period. Very many positive testimonies, authentic messages of hope and trust resulted from it.

Speaking of stereotypes, in the time of fake news what can be the role of communication? How is it possible to influence the narration of Africa especially in the West?

 Certainly by reflecting further on the reality and knowing it better. In the end, if we base ourselves on agencies or social networks in which each one can say what he wants, without verifying the sources, everything is based on the emotion of the moment, and it becomes difficult to reflect on and to understand well how things are. Therefore, the encouragement is to reflect further. It’s obvious that the ideal would be to inquire locally but it’s also clear that it’s not possible. However, there is the possibility to be informed and to find occasions to amplify Africa’s voice, because it’s also in their interest to have the realities known in which they find themselves. Therefore, every time there is an occasion to give voice to someone who has something interesting to tell, that can be an important contribution.

And is one of these stories linked to Harambee?

I would like to make a premise. The interesting thing is to see the reaction of young people that we encourage to have greater sensitivity to Africa. Participation often happens after a course of further reflection carried forward with their teachers. We “light a fuse,” we give an opportunity through the competition of commercials or one dedicated to stories and drawings entitled “I’ll Tell You about Africa,” and every time we propose something, for example to schools, a path of autonomy is initiated and we can see the results, something that is very interesting and also gratifying.

There are truly many stories to tell; they are collected in Harambee’s Web section and they are all very different between them. For example, in 2017 a story was awarded from Madagascar that, in my opinion, truly breaks all stereotypes. It tells the story of a group of kids that, through music and art, go in search of a ransom, and it’s a very positive story. There are also those of Italy, I’m thinking of commercials made even in a simple way, maybe shot on a beach of Ostia with a smartphone, but they are products that are very captivating.

In addition to the competition and to communication, what other initiatives do you pursue?

 There are different initiatives. In addition to those geared to communication, there are those for young people and for voluntary work. For example, solidary study, activated in different countries: kids who count their study hours, obviously monitored, which are then converted by some sponsor into euros allocated to concrete initiatives. It’s a further way of enhancing study, which is also transformed into help for a peer in Africa. Another example is “Travel with Purpose.” Every year we take possible collaborators, supporters or volunteers for a week to a different country of Africa, where our projects are active, who want to get involved but want to see first what is being done and in what way.

Let’s be clear, it’s not a tourist trip, far from it: it also requires some sacrifice because the participants are guests in the structures affected by the projects, but it’s a very beautiful way to bring people, who know little or nothing about Africa, close to realities that in fact are not tourist, and who thus can know directly situations, people and projects — an experience from which one always returns enriched.

Development Projects?

 They exist in different sectors: agriculture, university, professional formation, water resources. However, the common characteristic is formation: the purpose is to guarantee the sustainability of various actions. The projects are received in September, furnished by expert partners in the field of cooperation, with whom we have collaborated for years; then a committee selects them and the fundraising campaign starts.

Is the Competition Open to All?

 Yes, to all countries whether African or not. The announcement is intended for reports and video documentaries made since March 2020, which address ethnic, social, economic, health and cultural subjects linked to the COVID-19 health emergency. The last date to present works is September 30, 2021. The winner will be awarded a prize of 1,000 euros. The award ceremony is organized in turn by various national committees of Harambee. The last was managed by Portugal and the ceremony was held in Lisbon. Foreseen at present for this edition is an event not in attendance. If the health conditions allow it, the ceremony will be held instead at Rome.

It is possible to download the announcement here.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester