In the fourth cycle of our Diaspora Youth internship, on 1 September, we welcomed two new members to the team for the next five months, Daria Ruban and Oumou Diallo. Daria will be focusing on our technical support mechanisms (Capacity Development Lab and Diaspora Professionals 4 Development) whilst Oumou provides support on communication and research.
As the global health pandemic continues and remote-working remains the norm, it can be harder to get to know colleagues than previously, so we sat down virtually with Daria and Oumou to introduce them to each other and talk about their hopes for the experience.
Read on to get to know the latest additions to the EUDiF team.
Hello Daria and Oumou. We are delighted to welcome you to EUDiF as our newest interns. What made you apply for the internship and how do you feel at the start of it?
Daria: I am extremely glad to be on board! I learned about the internship when searching on the web and I really liked the opportunity of making a real change. I was looking for meaningful initiatives where one can see the substantial social impact made, so this feels like a golden opportunity as the project targets important topics that are close to my heart. As a member of the Ukrainian community abroad, I believe that we have a role to play in the development of our countries of origin. So I welcome any opportunity that aligns with that call. By taking part in the EUDiF project, I want to make my humble contribution.
Oumou: I am also very excited to be part of this project. As a diaspora member myself, born in Guinea and raised in Italy, it is an empowering opportunity. Personally, I always wanted to contribute to the development of my home country and I’m hoping to gain the insights, skills and knowledge necessary to do so through this internship. I was first introduced to EUDiF’s work while drafting my undergraduate thesis on diaspora policies. Since then, I have been drawn to all the initiatives around enhancing and mainstreaming diaspora human capital. So, as I want to pursue a career in the field of migration and development, I truly believe this internship combines both my personal and professional aspirations.
There are lots of different definitions and understandings of what it means to be ‘diaspora’. For EUDiF we include the concept of contributing to the country of heritage as a defining feature of ‘diaspora’, something you both want to do. Have you always identified yourselves as diaspora members in this way?
Oumou: I didn’t consider myself a ‘diaspora’ until a few years ago, despite the fact that I’ve always wanted to contribute to the growth of my country. Growing up in Italy came with many challenges and I began to reconnect with my roots after experiencing a sense of alienation from the context I was in. Developing a sense of identity and belonging has been a meaningful step for me and seeing examples of other African diaspora members around me was particularly motivating. However, the fact that I can be both Italian and Guinean without having to choose one over the other is also important. In this sense, I believe there is no one specific identity that defines a diaspora since migration experiences are diverse and continually evolving.
Daria: I was born and raised in Ukraine and it was moving to the Netherlands to study Public Administration that made me realise that a big part of my heart is still in Ukraine. Although I have highly enjoyed living abroad, the pangs of homesickness strike quite often. For a long time, I lacked a sense of home and personal fulfilment. Then I got to know people who maintained Ukrainian traditions and were involved in all sorts of diaspora community activities; I was impressed by the level of unity Ukrainians have and wanted to be a part of that to maintain cultural links with my roots.
Your respective journeys to identifying as diaspora are a very practical example of the diversity of experiences you mentioned Oumou and a good reminder that we can never generalise and must constantly reflect on the diversity of meaning and experience encompassed by the term ‘diaspora’. Thinking about identity building, Oumou, you have been away from your homeland for more than twenty years. How do you keep the connection with your country of origin?
Oumou: Despite having been away for a long time now, I maintain a deep bond with my homeland in a variety of ways, particularly through my cultural heritage. Alongside food, there is also my mother tongue, which I use to communicate with my family, but also to keep the connection with my homeland alive in my everyday life through music. Besides personal and cultural ties, I volunteer for the Aldo Viviani Association. The association was founded by my family to contribute to the development of Guinea, mostly in the healthcare and education sector. During my visits back home, I was glad to see how even such a small organisation, when working in close contact with local communities, can make a difference.
Daria, you explained that you became part of the Ukrainian diaspora when you moved to the Netherlands to study, so much more recently than Oumou. How has living abroad as an adult shaped the relationship you have with your homeland?
Daria: Living in a different country has brought me a great appreciation and understanding of my own culture. To stay connected to Ukraine, I have started to participate in activities organised by the Ukrainian diaspora. Honestly, that played a huge role in smoothening my arrival to a new country. I was a volunteer at the Ukrainian school and enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to feel at home in another cultural context. Together with other diaspora members, we ate national dishes, listened to Ukrainian music and exchanged tips on how to better transition into a new society. I must admit, there is something powerful about the comforts of traditional foods while you are living thousands of miles away!
Lastly, what do you think is the added value of explicitly incorporating youth diaspora in overall diaspora engagement efforts?
Oumou: I believe that young people in the diaspora bring great creativity and skills to the table and must not be cut out of any effort trying to engage diasporas. Young diaspora members can shape the conversation around the most pressing issues for their generation and encourage collective action. This means, for example, that they can advocate for climate change action in both their country of heritage and host country. The added value goes far beyond their multicultural perspectives and can include being ‘digital natives’ as well as having deep substance knowledge. Offering a space where the full spectrum of diaspora youth skills, knowledge and passions are consulted, appreciated, and refined can only benefit diaspora engagement.
Daria: Giving a voice to youth is important. The added value of the youth participation is in the ripple effect that will last a long time. In today’s world, young people play a pivotal role in fostering intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding. As Oumou said, as young people we are empowered with energy and creativity. All that is needed is to unlock the potential of the youth and engage them in diaspora discourses. This is a difficult task but I am happy to learn that lots of European policymakers are turning their attention to youth engagement. I think that some of the challenges facing the world – including environmental, demographic and technological changes – will require work for youth, with youth and by youth.