Former LSS student and Just Do It champion boxer Saqa7 Kage-Thevarge is back in Canada and attending college after spending three unforgettable months in Africa.
Kage-Thevarge, whose mother Mariko lives in Lillooet, participated in an international internship in Zambia.
He was there as a participant in a program called “Walking Together,” run by the Victoria International Development and Education Association (VIDEA) under the Global Affairs Canada International Youth Aboriginal Internship (IAYI) Program
He arrived Aug. 17, after a 10-day orientation on Vancouver Island, with an additional 10 days of orientation in the Mumbwa District of Zambia before starting his placement.
He returned to Mumbwa Dec. 6 for another 10 days of re-integration training before flying back to Canada for more re-integration.The last official day of his internship was Dec. 21.
During his time in Africa, he stayed in an apartment owned by the host organization Women for Change in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city.
A typical day for him involved working in the Women for Change offices, working on the computer, doing research, writing reports, and creating media to be posted online or printed as newsletters, pamphlets, event promotions, etc.
“I had a few chances to go into the field, to Petauke and Rufunsa Districts and visit rural areas. On those days my typical day was an early start to get out to where we met the community, which was generally an hour or more from where we were staying in town,” he told the News. “We were often greeted in song and dance, and I learned to introduce myself in the local language "Nyanja."
What surprised him most about Zambia?
“The amount of culture that still exists there, and the people’s relationship with colonialism and the church. It contrasts starkly against the current landscape of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” he observed. “There are eight traditional languages that people speak there, and many people can switch back and forth between them in conversations, but 99 per cent of people are Christian, and you can see it in the culture, and in the media.”
He said he constantly saw advertisements or references to religion, everyone had Bible passages pasted on their buses and cars, and every meeting started with a Christian prayer.
“They can reconcile that with their traditions, and many believe that colonialism was a great thing that happened to them,” he continued.
Kage-Thevarge has a much different view of colonialism and the damage inflicted on Zambia by what he calls “the white saviour complex.
“Every part of colonialism was founded on the belief that these people need to be saved, and that western methodologies are the only way to do that,” said Kage-Thevarge. “The parental relationship that has been perpetuated as a result has robbed these people of their capacity for development. None of these people need your Toms shoes or well- intentioned volunteer labour to save them; sure it might make them happy for a moment,
nice shoes and the chance to interact with white people, westerners, but what happens to the local shoe maker? Or the labourer who is put out of work because you decided that your time and money was better spent on a plane ticket and building a well with no expertise rather than on the wages of a local who actually knows what he’s doing?”
He says people may feel good about making a difference by “saving the starving African child, but ultimately it’s things like that which set up a charitable relationship that leads to dependency.”
In contrast, he said the organization he worked with focuses its operations on capacity development and a human rights-based approach.
“They treat these people not as second-class citizens in need of a saviour, but vessels of untapped potential and with basic human dignity. They research, and they ask the community what they need, what their issues are, and they help and support that community to be the masters of their own fate.”
He added, “They don't generalize, they don't make blanket assumptions about what all communities need based on the needs of one community, and sure they build some wells, but they do so much more than that.
“They empower these people, these communities to reach their fullest human potential.”
The News asked if he would encourage others to participate in the internship program.
His answer is candid.
“This program isn't for everyone; it takes a lot to ship yourself to the other side of the world and insert yourself into an entirely new culture for months away from home. You need to have to have strong self-care habits, and you need to be adaptable to stresses, with great conflict resolution skills.
“Living closely with 10 strangers, conflict will arise, but if you can resolve them and move forwards there is a lot of group bonding over the time you spend together as interns,” he reflects.
“I would recommend it if you are willing to take up this challenge and work to develop these skills.”