This post was written by Umeeda Umedaly Switlo, who has worked with CUSO-VSO for nearly four years as the Public Engagement Officer for the Western Region of Canada and the US.
I decided to work with CUSO to affect change and, being from Uganda, I really had a deep connection to that region. My late husband had passed away from HIV/AIDS and that disease was taking a real toll on the people around the world. I wanted to make a difference and lead a purposeful life.
At first opportunity, I travelled to Uganda on a communications assignment for CUSO on my holidays. I took my daughter Nareena with me and was hoping she would make some connection to Africa. I had left the country as a refugee in 1972. We had lost everything and my family was scattered around the world. This event changed my life but I knew somehow that I wanted to see Uganda again.
After 36 years, I was back. At the airport, they asked me to pay for the usual tourist visa. I refused to pay, saying that I was Ugandan. Imagine the days I left where people were shot for challenging anyone with a gun. It took guts to do this. I was very emotional and the official—instead of harassing me—welcomed me home. I can’t tell you what a transformative event that was for me—one has to make peace with one’s home country in a personal way when you are a refugee. It is only after this that you can affect sincere change.
Upon my return to Canada, I was even more determined to help. I saw CUSO as an organization that was preparing itself to engage diaspora in development. They had sent people in the 1960’s to their homeland but now they wanted to promote deeper links between partner organizations in the south with those in Canada. I was appointed to the diaspora committee and I believe the organization is being intentionally inclusive—from our assessment team, to recruitment of volunteers. The staff are diverse and it a pleasure to make a difference in development through and with an organization such as CUSO.
It was a special moment for me when my daughter, Nareena, an anthropologist, joined CUSO and was assigned to Zanzibar. She was born in Canada and now she was making a journey to the very place where many people of Indian ancestry had landed in Africa — the place they called home for four generations. She learned Swahili and I believe this experience allows her to relate in a deeper way to me and her grandparents.
This year I decided that it was my turn. I found an assignment in Rwanda to work with The Umbrella of People with Disabilities (UPHLS) in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Rwanda, who advocate for the rights of people with impairments whether they be physical, sensory, mental or intellectual. So I embark upon an assignment that matches my need to make a difference in HIV/AIDS and brings me very close to Uganda again.
Learn more about how diaspora contribute to development at our final dialogue, “Diaspora Contributions to Development: Opportunities and Lessons Learned”, on September 14, 2011. For more information and to register, please visit our website.Advertisements