UMOJA Unlocked Reflection

-by Yumna Saleem Hashmi (Pakistan)

Interacting with people from diverse parts of the world who were passionate about making a difference, it was surely a wonderful experience.

Throughout the course, we were introduced to different perspectives to help us build a community. We outlined some major challenges facing our world like the dangers of a single story and how stereotypes arise from these stories. I learned that if we hear only a single story about a person or a country, we risk a critical misunderstanding or prejudices against them. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie who gave this concept says "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete".

I figured out how we can be identified by the trivial perspectives that come together to form who we are. I learned that groups of social identities are typically characterized by certain individual physical, social, and mental characteristics. Race, gender, social class, sexual identity, (dis)abilities, and religious beliefs are examples of social identities. We defined identities as "The visible and invisible parts which are influenced by our community that define who you are". Identities can evolve as we accumulate different life experiences.

Relating intersectionality with identity, I learned how individuals are often oppressed by numerous sources of oppression: race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other markers of identity. I got to know that intersectionality is the acknowledgment that everyone has their own unique experiences of prejudice and injustice and that we must take into account. We defined intersectionality as "The systemic existence of social categorizations, such as race, class, and gender, as applied to a specific person or community, considered to establish overlapping and interdependent discriminatory or disadvantage structures.”

Introduction to the Activism session has been motivating and encouraging. I understood Activism as a simple action to create a difference in the community or an effect on social change. We were introduced to different ways about how we can pursue opportunities to help create a difference with the help of our abilities. For example, taking part in a climate march or volunteering at an old age home. I came to realized that no matter who I am or where I am, I still can take part in the betterment of the world.

What are the spaces in which you have power? We were asked this question at the beginning of the session. Power can be in our hands in regards to different situations. In our breakout rooms, we realized that we had power in the form of group work and trust. We all can have power but it is up to us whether we use it to make a difference in the lives of people or to be more influential on the people with no power. About privilege, those who have it usually think they have earned. Privileges are unearned and they are granted to people in the dominant groups whether or not they want those privileges. Like coercive targets, individuals in dominant communities are often unaware of being part of the dominant group because they have the luxury of being able to identify themselves as persons rather than stereotypes.

The term 'IKIGAI' fascinated me by how we can relate our life values to the causes we are passionate about. Iki means 'life' and Gai means 'values'. We normally are caught in the predicament of whether to choose the things we love or the ones which we will help us earn money. I figured out my ikigai which lied where; what I love meets what I am good at, meets what I can be valued, and paid for meets that which the world needs. I learned to follow the paths that I love and to balance a better life.

Moving on, we were assigned to work on case studies within our groups. Our group chose the problems faced by refugees in other countries. The reason behind the preference for this topic is that media and other sources do not usually spotlight the predicaments of refugees in other countries and how they are kept deprived of their rights, so we decided to raise awareness about these issues. Throughout the case study, I was introduced to various new challenges facing our world.

Furthermore, we had a fellowship session with the past alumni of Umoja. In that gathering, we were assigned to different imaginative countries that were created so thoroughly that we did not counter any problem while working on them. We were told to help the countries in between the Covid-19 crisis taking into account their statuses. It was wonderful to come up with different ways to help countries. We were given some insights about how the Covid-19 is affecting in the parts of Africa.

In our last session, we reflected on how we are going to work on the causes that we are concerned about while revising the things we learned throughout the course. It was so great to share your ideas with a group of people who had unique ways to tackle the challenges they were passionate about.

UMOJA Unlocked allowed me to intermingle with passionate people from all around the world to address the challenges while also coming up with the solutions. I am grateful that I got to meet such wonderful facilitators and participants.

6 days of UMOJA Unlocked Sessions

-by Francisco Neto (Brazil)

Introduction Ceremony

Due to my timezone, I left my bed at 3:30 a.m. I didn't wake up, cause I was so anxious that I didn't even sleep. I took a shower, put my Brazilian 2014 world cup shirt, and started to set up the devices I was going to use.

I'll skip the technicalities, but won't lie, it was a pain.

Quick advice: don't use a glass as a support for your phone.

At 4:59 a.m, just one minute away from the start, I was still having some difficulties. I was very sleepy and with one brain cell left from trying to make my devices work, but my excitement made it all go away.

I was able to enter the Zoom room and there they were. The wonderful group of people I was so excited to meet.

I was so happy but also scared that I wouldn't be able to express myself the way I wanted to. The icebreakers and games made by the facilitators came in handy.

By the end of the first session, we started to meet each other, knowing things such as the country and the name of the other participants. It made everything so much easier.

For the second session, I was expecting very deep discussions and reflections as the subject was identities and intersectionalities. We talked a lot about what makes us who we are, and how our identities - even those we don't choose to have - impact our lives. The most important thing I took out of this session is that even if we're not aware or don't like to talk about our identities, they're still there and have strong influences on us on a day-to-day basis.

It was a lot to process. Those are very delicate topics and to talk about them is to expose yourself - that's not an easy thing to do in front of almost 20 people you just met. But that also made us strengthen the bond we had created in that first session.

In the end, I didn't want to say goodbye. It was so amazing to spend those hours with all of the participants and facilitators. If I could, I would stay there all day.

The reflections didn't end with the Zoom meeting, and we had discussions all day long in our Slack channels. It was very fun and also challenging to deal with different mentalities.

Identity, power & privilege

I was a little more energized for this day because the session happened at 8 AM in my timezone, so I didn't have to wake up so early.

While we waited for all the participants to enter the meeting, I was eating a cold pizza for breakfast.

The first session started with a deep and necessary TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi talking about the danger of a single story. It made everyone very thoughtful about the way we see each other and the stereotypes we put upon people. We then discussed in small groups about how we felt.

We learned how our identities could give us privileges or put us in a position of disadvantage. Having had a workshop about identity was essential for us to understand power dynamics.

We all reflected on our own privileges and how we either affect or were affected by other people in several contexts. We also understood the dangers of stereotypes.

After a 20 minute break - enough for me to eat my second breakfast of the morning - we were introduced to our umbrella groups.

They're small groups of participants. I think this separation is extremely necessary as sometimes it may feel overwhelming to deal with more than 20 people. In small groups, we feel more comfortable and get to know each other better.

It was a very emotional session. We were asked how we were feeling and shared insecurities and worries.

In the end, I really felt like I belong to my umbrella group.

Can't wait to see what else UMOJA Unlocked has to offer me. It has been such an incredible experience and we're still on week 1.

"Crossing the line"

I was honestly expecting a lot of games and fun since the schedule said day 3 was about games.

The first game was really fun to participate in. We had to organize a march and couldn't disagree with anyone about how it was going to be.

It was like an icebreaker for me, as we haven't been in touch for some days, but I also learned from it.

The second game hit me the hardest. We were told to turn our webcams off and the facilitators started to make some statements. If it was relatable, we should put our webcams on again.

The statements were really deep, ranging from gender issues to religions. I felt really vulnerable to be sharing such personal things with everyone, but in the end, it made me feel like I'm part of a family.

It's only day 3, and I'm already learning so much from UMOJA. There are some things words can't describe, and I guess that being part of such an incredible group of people is one of them.

I'm very excited for weekend 2!

Introduction to ACTIVISM

It was our introduction to activism, so I was very excited. We were introduced to super important concepts such as Positionality and how it influences our views of the world. We shared examples of activism in our communities, had deep conversations on what was the meaning of activism for us, and reached a common meaning. As always, we were sent to rooms with small groups to discuss how we felt about the activities and had the opportunity to share our thoughts on everything we discussed before the next session.

In the second session, we started to work on our case studies. We were divided into small groups that had to choose a topic of interest to work on; my group chose education. We then discussed a lot about how Education works in our communities and what are the ways we can act to improve it.

This was very challenging for me as this was the first session we were in total control. The coordinators were there just so that we didn't have any doubts and to intervene if necessary, but everything else - from dealing with time to making sure everyone shares their opinion - was our responsibility.

Although it was very difficult and somewhat stressful, I had so much fun and learned a lot.

This day was a lot to take in, so the coordinators made available additional materials to help us.

Case studies: simulating group projects

The first session was also about our case study. I and my group were a little more used to being in control of everything as a result of the experience on day 3, so things went a little bit smoother.

We had some difficulty with our project, such as not knowing which particular community we were going to focus on, but it was all solved during the session and after it on slack. On day 4, we also deepened our understanding of the "Human-Centered Design" that was introduced to us on day 3 and put it in practice. The whole concept is complicated to understand, but the coordinators were very comprehensive, and were there all the time in case we had any doubts.

Session two was an umbrella one. I was so anxious about it because I just love how we are able to express our feelings and insecurities and thoughts with everyone and establish a sense of belonging there - not that this doesn't happen in normal sessions, but it tastes differently in umbrella ones. It was a great end for this incredible weekend, and we couldn't wait for the mid-week session.

Case study check-in and Fellows' Workshop

This day started in a great way with another of the most fun icebreakers we always make. We had to design ourselves as sodas with color, taste, and shape of the bottle. It was such an innocent game, but we were able to reflect on many things, including how we see ourselves in a very fun way. We then started discussing our case studies projects and the progress we had made.

On the extra session, we met alumni from past UMOJA editions. It was so incredible to see how UMOJA has impacted their lives and how they feel like giving back to the course by helping with creating the same amazing experience for other participants.

We had a workshop about COVID-19 and the African continent and then played a game they prepared for us. We were given a made-up country to analyze how the coronavirus pandemic has affected it and then we were asked to solve these problems taking into account the contexts of every country (was it a rich country? did it have enough hospitals? etc). We had some technical difficulties, but that didn't stop us from having an incredible and fun experience.

Reflection on Power and Privilege

-by Sondos Nour (Egypt)

Have you ever wondered what power literally means? What causes some people to possess that power? What makes power a controversial concept? What about privileges? What is the secret behind white people being privileged over black people? Does power lead to acquiring privileges, or is it the opposite? A third option is are they maybe represented as a ring?

During this exceptional session, we viewed a TED talk named “The power of the single story”. The topic may seem ambiguous, but we never thought that it was going to discuss the core of power. The TED talk started by discussing how the person who writes a story can change the world. Take a look at the books describing black people; you will generally see them described by poverty, starving, thirst, the extremely hot weather, the curly hair, illiteracy, and so on. However, look at those describing white people; you will find champagne, straight hair, literacy, men with suits, women with high heels, and so on.

Unfortunately, as you may have concluded, literature and media are one of the monopolizing of main reasons of power. A book or film can literally change people’s lives. Literature and media have been used to categorize people, which reinforces some peoples' privileges. Whenever you possess power, you are privileged. Whenever you are privileged, you possess power.

To relate some concepts from the our initial sessions on identity, we can say that identities have a lot to do with power. For instance, in terms of race, there is a privilege that white people have that black, brown and non-white people do not. This ties into how history has been written, and the pictures of whiteness that have been carved in our minds as I mentioned earlier. Digging deeper, some people hurt whenever they are required to categorize people or give some privileges. However, when thinking globally, we will find that giving privileges sometimes saves the planet. Remember World War 2, when countries fought to prove who has more power? That could have been solved peacefully if some country gave up its privileges just to save lives. Subsequently, privileges sometimes let us live peacefully with no fights.

Returning to power, it can be defined as the privileges given to some people, and their ability to manipulate mindsets and stories by managing literature and media. It can be divided into many types, such as:

  • Micropower: the power you possess in a small group of people. For example, you are a white person in a meeting with a lot of people of colour, then, your opinion will likely be dominant.

  • Macro-power: the power some country possesses over another, or the power some side possesses over the other on a large scale. For example, the recognized power the US has in the world.

  • Social power: the power you gain in your community, which can be equivalent to social respect.

  • Economical power: the power gained by money and trade, which usually results in social power.

  • Political power: the power recognized in political opinions and discussions.

For the final word, talking about power may seem heavy and unacceptable at first, but you will find that it is an extremely deep topic and whenever you dig deeper, you will get more curious.

Stay curious!

DAY 1- Kicking off UMOJA Unlocked!

On Saturday 8 August, we officially kicked-off day one of UMOJA Unlocked! It was incredible to have 23 of us (15 participants from 11 countries and 8 coordinators) get online at the same time, across timezones, and to start building our virtual Short Course community.

UMOJA Unlocked brings us together at a particularly challenging moment, as the COVID-19 pandemic shifts the ways that we know the world, reveals the deep inequalities and injustices that define our societies, and forces us to reflect on what our communities look like. From 8 -30 August we will meet 3 times a week to discuss, share, create and imagine our way toward a better understanding of how we engage with our communities.

This blog will be a space where the participants of UMOJA Unlocked will share their experiences of being on the Short Course, and elaborate on the ideas they are grappling with.

Our first blog post from features pieces from two of our participants: Julieta from Uruguay, and Lina from Brazil!

Stay tuned to this space to continue hearing from the diverse and powerful voices of the participants on the Short Course and to keep up with all things UMOJA Unlocked!

UMOJA Unlocked: Day 1

-by Julieta Michelin (Uruguay)

Were days of preparing our devices, accounts and minds to take the road into the short course. I could not stop thinking about from where everyone will be, guessing how we are going to present ourselves and also if our virtual environment is going to make us feel comfortable and engaged from the beginning to the end.

Suddenly, it was Saturday. We all receive a warm welcome, even being 5 a.m. timezone GTM-3 and winter in the southern hemisphere. My mind blew up when I realized that we were there, people from different continents and backgrounds, together, sharing hopes, expectations and fears. There were lots of feelings in common, and more importantly, everyone’s excitement to learn and contribute with our knowledge and experiences, while respecting differences.

I met diversity, and not only with the nationalities and ethnicities, but also with thoughts when discussing identities and the intersectionality. I got used to hearing similar opinions as mine because the communities where I talk about that live under the same paradigm. UMOJA Unlocked has opened the doors to freely express ourselves with listeners and questioners. Even though the difficulties in communication due to technology, I felt that meaningful debates took part with microphones on and off, with the blessed chat.

I can’t wait to see my knowledge and ego be shaken by these incredible topics. Today I discovered the potential of the course and I have no hesitation that everybody is going to be crucial in this process. More than grateful to be here.

The first day of UMOJA Course

-by Lina da Silva (Brazil/Israel)

This year UWC short course took place, yes you read it right!

We all adapted and got to be together online through a screen even though the time zone was putting us apart because we are all miles and oceans away from each other. Some of us were online early in the morning, in the evening or late at night.

We were so shy wondering "what am I doing here?" and millions of other thoughts!

At 11:00 GMT+3, we all took a brave step to turn on the camera to see each other for the very first time. The introduction ceremony took place with coordinators and facilitators introducing themselves and ended with some explanations on the course's purposes.

To break the ice, we introduced ourselves by playing a quick game and shortly telling our names and a bit of our country's flag meaning. We ended the first session by revising the course guidelines and sharing our expectations, fears and hopes for the coming days.

We took a break and started the first session topic that was Identity & Intersectionality, participants identified and enhanced the understanding of multiple, complex identities and their intersectionality within themselves and a community.

We ended the day with reflections on what we learned and explored today, we have got our emotions flourished by a mix of feelings and curiosity for the coming days.