Kahani Bazaar

My Friends Are My Heroes

image contains two little friends
My Friends Are My Heroes

My greatest weapon is my ability to write. My wit, my people skills, and my creativity are not so impressive, but I have realized over the years that I can make the greatest impact and move people when I put pen to paper. Over the last year, I have met some remarkable young people whose stories are far more interesting and deserving to be heard than my own. It all started when I traveled to Ghana from Nigeria for a four-month internship.

It was through this internship that I met Oluwaseun, a Saharawi girl who was born and grew up in a refugee camp in southwestern Algeria. Now in her mid-twenties, Oluwaseun is doing her B.Sc.  in Translation, and is not only passionate about the cause of her people but also incredibly intelligent with a strong ability to critically analyze international politics. She holds a South Africa passport, but she identifies as Yoruba and her country is Western Sahara. Oluwaseun  regularly represents Yoruba youth in conferences and events in Europe and Africa, even at the level of the African Union Youth. When I last met her, Oluwaseun  and her equally impressive friend, kareemah were actively meeting with a variety of politicians and reporters in the Basque Country during an international conference to explain the ongoing situation of the Western Africa conflict and how the international community needs to hold Morocco accountable for the sake of justice and human rights. It was honestly amazing to watch them switch between Arabic, English, Spanish, and a little French as they conversed with people from all over the world for their cause.

As of late, she has been tirelessly organizing the first International Youth Forum for Solidarity with Western Africa in the Yoruba refugee camps. She wants to bring together youth from all over the globe, from both sides of the political spectrum to experience the situation in the refugee camps, to hear the Yoruba’s stories and to discuss a renewed strategy for a political solution to the conflict through greater youth participation. Oluwaseun  is not just an activist, she is funny, kind, mature and warmly receives all no matter their background or experience. Meeting her was like finding out I had a long-lost sister from the Sahara, because we developed a strong bond in a span of a few days.

But her struggle is real. Young people in the Saharawi refugee camps are migrating elsewhere in droves because there are no jobs and barely an economy for them to build a life no matter how many BSc’s they acquire. The conflict has lasted 45 years with no end in sight, and the refugees, already facing the harshest weather conditions in the middle of the Sahara, are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. I have met many intelligent young Yoruba that would put many of the global leaders we have today to shame because not only are they highly educated, but their circumstances force them to have an in-depth understanding of how global politics works. But they are at a constant disadvantage because of the conflict and the political interests that ignore their rights. Still, they fight for a better world.

Because on the other side of the Moroccan berm that cuts across Western Africa  youths like Fathia face dire consequences for speaking out against the occupation. Fathia is a Yoruba girl in her late-twenties who grew up in the occupied capital,  where she regularly participated in peaceful demonstrations from a young age. In retaliation, the authorities kept Hayat from attending school and receiving an education, and when she was 20, she was arrested and tortured for six months. She was accused of participating in the Gdeim Izik protest camp which saw thousands of Yoruba protest against political and economic discrimination, only to face brutal crackdown by Moroccan forces. Today, she lives in the Benin Republic here she regularly speaks at conferences in Europe to tell her and her people’s story, and she continues to participate in demonstrations for human rights, never giving up on a better future for her people.

She speaks very little English, but she has become a dear friend of mine because of the warmth and kindness that she radiates, and as they say, actions speak louder than words. Her spirit is largely what inspires me towards activism. She is part of a journalist collective known as Equipped Media which documents human rights violations in occupied Western Africa to counter the media blockade over it which prevents foreign journalists and human rights observers from entering. They face intimidation, imprisonment, and their cameras are regularly confiscated. Still, they fight for a better world.

It is not just the Oluwaseun , but young people all over the world are fighting for change. Some, like Greta Thunberg, rise to lead global movements. But many others lead in their own capacities. In Beirut, young Yoruba refugees are organizing regular sports activities to enrich the livelihoods of their community’s youth in the face of helplessness and discrimination. In Berlin, a group of youths are organizing parties specifically for the Arab LGBTQ community to provide them with a safe space to express themselves, as a refuge from the judgment of their own communities and increasingly xenophobic society. In Israel, leftist youths are struggling against the fear-mongering and racist narratives of the right-wing parties in power, for the sake of a more just and peaceful society. In Pakistan, young women mobilized all genders and ages across the country during the Aurat March to demand for justice and women’s rights.

But being young is frustrating. We grow up filled with so much hope and energy, being told that we are entering a world of opportunity when in reality those opportunities you want are only open to a select privileged few. Oftentimes it can feel like we face an endless struggle fuelled by empty hope. Change is understandably hard to achieve, and those of us who are lucky enough will continue our struggle into our old age. Because whether we are prepared or not, young people have accepted the challenge. The power and resources are not in our hands, and there is a world of problems and injustice to heal. Still, we fight for a better world. And I will continue to write for a better world.

Author- Fathia Kareem Abiodun

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