CANADA: African Sunshine Festival Draws Record Crowds On Cold Winter Day

Mathew McCarthy,Record staff Nathan Oussoren, 7, wears his tiger face paint at Bring on the Sunshine on Monday.

(Mathew McCarthy,Record staff)
Nathan Oussoren, 7, wears his tiger face paint at Bring on the Sunshine on Monday.

KITCHENER (Ontario, Canada) — When Zimbabwe-born artist and poet Jacqui Terry arrived in Waterloo Region five years ago, she was pleased to learn the region had a rich multicultural population, particularly of African-Canadians.

“My experience as a white African coming to Canada, you can choose to drop that part of your heritage (but) we have this thing, we want to share,” said Terry during a short interlude at the fourth annual Bring on the Sunshine African Festival, held on Family Day as part of Black History Month.

Each year the festival is held at Forest Hill United Church, filling every inch of space in the large church, including the sanctuary, a surprise even to Terry, the festival founder.

“We’re busting at the seams,” she said of this year’s turnout. “The numbers … probably about 1,000. In 2013, we had about 900. The first year, we planned for 100 and we had 756.”

Hundreds of people come out to listen to the music, learn traditional drumming and dancing, watch the fashion show (and try on traditional outfits), browse the African marketplace and bid on silent auction items.

Though visitors to the event come from all cultural backgrounds, Terry said the festival provides a venue for Africans to share their cultures with the larger community and also for non-African families to show their adopted children of African descent where they came from.

“It’s the perfect combination: Family Day and Black History Month,” she said.

Terry’s mother is Canadian, her father British. She immigrated to Canada eight years ago and has since worked at not just promoting African culture locally but also bringing the various groups within Waterloo Region together, including the K-W Multicultural Centre and Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region.

She talked about the importance of the word ubuntu, a South African Bantu term meaning human-ness, the bonds between humans of all colours, all races.

“I couldn’t be a human being on my own, without being in a community,” she said. “Part of that community is the expression of culture. Nelson Mandela talked about that a lot.”

(Mathew McCarthy,Record staff) Nathan Oussoren, 7, wears his tiger face paint at Bring on the Sunshine on Monday.

(Mathew McCarthy,Record staff)
Nathan Oussoren, 7, wears his tiger face paint at Bring on the Sunshine on Monday.

This sharing of culture is empowering, particularly for young women such as Shara Marie-France Temahagali, the reigning Miss AfriCanada. Temahagali was a guest at the festival.

Born in Rwanda, the 22-year-old University of Toronto philosophy and history student plans on a career in international law, hoping eventually to return to use her skills in Rwanda, where up to one million people were killed in the genocide in the mid-1990s.

She said being crowned Miss AfriCanada was eye-opening, given it is a pageant not designed to crown the most beautiful, but rather to help young women define what is important to them.

“You have to create a platform and you have to talk in public,” she said. “It’s to help you to be more interested in your African culture.”

Temahagali, whose parents and two younger siblings live in Ajax, chose to focus her platform on conflict prevention, starting with the issue of bullying in schools.

During her one-year reign, which wraps up in August, she has been delivering a message of tolerance, a message she will take to Rwanda. The AfriCanada experience provided Temahagali with a scholarship as well as funding to allow her to travel to Rwanda and visit schools.

The previous year’s winner, Christine Kitoko, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, founded her own charitable organization, Hands for the Heart, which works to alleviate poverty and inequality in the Congo as well as around the world.

Tragedies such as the Rwandan genocide arise from lack of understanding, said Temahagali.

“People don’t treat each other as equals.”

Part of the proceeds from Bring on the Sunshine will be donated to the Coalition for the Success of African-Caribbean Canadian Youth, a Waterloo Region-based organization designed to help black youth overcome barriers that could interfere with their education.

Source:vhill@therecord.com|TheRecord.com

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