ISSA DIALLO, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN COUNCIL IN UKRAINE: "Our main mission is to promote dialogue between different cultures"
In Moscow I was assigned to go to the capital of Ukraine, where I was sent to study at the Kiev Institute of Civil Aviation. My first impression was - an incredible country. In my homeland, even colour of the ground is different. In Africa it seems to be red, but here it looked black and grey. It was only later I learned that you have the best black soil in the world, which grows everything. Even if you throw a stick, it will take root.
In Ukraine women are very beautiful and hard-working. However, when I first saw them I was shocked. I arrived by train and noticed that the fair sex is working in all spheres. In my country women are mainly engaged in offices or in bazaars. But hard physical work on the rails looked very unusual and very impressive.
The hardest thing was to get used to the weather and local cuisine. Ukrainian dishes differ much from what I got used to eat. This difference was in everything - colour, smell, taste, and even the way of cooking. Our food is very spicy, but seasonings are used very little here. In addition, for the first time I had to cook my own meals. In my family I am the only boy and I have five sisters, so I was never allowed to the kitchen. Here I had to learn, first how to fry an egg, then - potatoes. At the end of first year I was able to cook rice pilaf and borscht. But the most difficult was my adaptation to the weather. There is a very sharp temperature difference between winter and summer. Alas, but, still I have not got used to cold weather. And no matter how warn I dressed and no matter how warm my gloves are, hands, especially the fingers still get cold.
Aviation is love and hobby of my life. But I have not happened to work in this area of my first education. Having finished mechanical department, I try not to lose qualification and constantly receive training on different courses. I hold even a certificate of translator of scientific and technical texts. A second diploma of HR manager helps make my living doing business. I am fluent in English, French and Russian languages. I speak several African dialects and a little Arabic. I know Ukrainian as well, but I think that not perfect enough.
Most Africans in Ukraine are students: some of them come, others leave. And this flow never dries up. There are two more categories: refugees and those who remain to live here after having started a family or a business. Most of them are Nigeria natives who have the largest diaspora in Ukraine. Then come Morocco, Congo, Cameroon, there are also representatives of my country - Guinea. In recent years, more and more people come from Sudan. South Africa is also represented, mainly by businessmen.
All Africans who come to Ukraine are peaceful and friendly people who want either to study or to work. Believe me: no one will go 10 thousand kilometres in order to battle. In Africa, if people want it, we have enough problems. Therefore, we can say with absolute certainty that all who came here want to have good contacts, looking for support and understanding.
The situation with the adaptation of Africans in Ukraine is not optimistic. With higher education, and with very high qualifications it is almost impossible to find work here. One can be lucky to find a vacancy but only in the representative office of foreign company, where good knowledge of foreign languages is a big plus. An option is to create jobs independently. This is mainly the services sector and trade, which do not need a lot of money. Or to return home, where there will not be work if before graduating someone from relatives or friends does not help with employment. And there you're starting from scratch, in spite of education and the fact that you studied as a state scholarship. Therefore, many graduates with diplomas go to third countries.
African Council in Ukraine was created to unite people from African countries. Before that, there were several unsuccessful attempts to unite everyone under one roof. There were founded some students’ units, associations of co-patriots. But they did not have legal registration. We realised necessity for this step. Especially in 2006-2008, when there was a big surge of xenophobia and racism in Ukraine. Many Africans were attacked and beaten. And we understood that if we did not create something official, it would be difficult to attract the attention to all these problems and, consequently, to solve them. So the African Council of Ukraine appeared in 2010.
Starting something new is not easy and there are always enough critics. We were told that no one could have done it before us, and we would waste time. But I do not get tired of repeating: different people have different goals. The main things are your enthusiasm and faith. And so it happened: we did what we wanted having united efforts and interests of 40 different African communities and local associations.
For almost 5 years we have proved what we can do, and now we are considered by others. Our organization is a member of various associations. For instance, the Union of National Minorities which works with the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers, and local authorities. African Council is a member of the Supervisory Board of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We are invited to participate in international conferences abroad, such as in 2014 in Vienna. And this year, as a public organization which is very active in Ukraine for integration and understanding, we were invited to Chisinau.
Our staff is professional and works as a volunteer. After all, the African Council does not make any money, and none receives salary. But despite this, we have a lot of advisers from among the Ukrainians who are helping us. There are Africans and African-Ukrainians - those who have one parent born in Africa. Everyone is involved into the area he knows well, and where he can be most efficient.
We not only help Africans integrate in Ukraine, but acquaint Ukrainians with our culture. And at home we tell that in the world there is a very beautiful country and a talented nation. After all, earlier, when you referred to Kiev, everyone thought it was Russia. But in recent years, particularly because of the recent events, everyone in Africa already knows: they are two completely different state.
We all work for the eradication of xenophobia and racism. After all, these things are happening because of the lack of knowledge about other cultures and customs. Therefore, it is necessary to tell more of who we are, and through this dialogue to learn more about each other, to find common ground. It is necessary to remove the artificial barriers created by ignorance and then a lot of questions will disappear.
Officially, in Ukraine no one wants to admit the existence of xenophobia and racism. And they are trying to cover up all the critical moments. But the problem cannot be solved if kept in silence. The latest accident is an attack on Africans at a recent soccer match at the National Sports Complex “Olimpiyskiy”. A person was wounded, and it is known just because there is a question of the investigation of this case. There were injured more people, but they did not file written applications because they do not believe in the Ukrainian law enforcement system and fair investigation. African victims can be interrogated dozens of times, but authorities will not look for the guilty, unless, of course, it is a murder case. Only if there is a hard crime with death, it is still possible to rely on the law. But if we are talking about hooliganism, investigation is so delayed that at the end victims withdraw their applications. And next time Africans are in no hurry to seek protection in the police, because they do not want to go through this difficult path of interrogation and humiliation.
There are also many everyday stories of contempt of Africans. For instance, very often in the bus no one will sit down or stand close to African. But we do not pay attention to this. People are different, but most of them are nice and friendly. And even if there is a little positive, we still have to be pleased by it. We tell it to everyone: take notice of positive only and send positive out. And most importantly is, smile. After all, a smile always unites.
We are working hard so that the Ukrainians learn and understand us better. Thus, we hold cultural meetings called "Alive Library". We believe that every person is a unique book, alive book. And it is a person who can best tell about his country, culture and traditions. We gather people who can share their knowledge with others. Often meetings are accompanied by tastings of national cuisines and various master classes. We want people to know and understand us, and the fact that we love and respect Ukraine and its people.