Sept. 7-13, 2006
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Chuck Wainwright
EJEDA festival and Congolese community inauguration held at OCC
On Aug. 26, the Albert Gordon Student Center Cafeteria at Onondaga Community College was alive with activity. Close to 50 people came to celebrate peace at the second annual EJEDA festival and Congolese community inauguration. Many of the people who attended were attired in colorful native African clothing and included EJEDA members and representatives from the Pan African Community of Central New York.
The event featured Syracuse city councilman Van Robinson as keynote speaker, a presentation about EJEDA from president Cyprien Mihigo, comments from Syracuse University professor Micere Mugo, a presentation about herbal medicine by Dr. Jennifer Daniels and African music, dancing and food.
Robinson gave a presentation on the history of the Congo. After years of political unrest, the Congo was emancipated from Belgium June 30, 1960. “I remember the joy in my household and my neighborhood,” Robinson reminisced. “The Congo was one of the first nations in Africa to succeed in being liberated and becoming an important member of the world’s body in the 1960s and even today.” Robinson went on to say that the Congo and the other nations in Africa have made a deep impact on the U.S. “The culture [food, music, clothing, etc.] and traditions of Africa permeate our culture today,” Robinson said. “This is a result of our forefathers and mothers from the motherland of Africa. Every phase of life has been impacted by the descendants of Africa.”
Robinson also stressed the importance of supporting one another. “An appeal has been made to help the EJEDA organization — that appeal should become universal,” said Robinson. “We’ve seen through TV what is happening in Africa. There’s no way we can say it won’t affect us, because it will.”
Since 1998, the Congo has suffered greatly from the devastating Second Congo War, the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. The Mihigo family emigrated here from the Congo five years ago to seek a better life and escape the killing, rape and abduction brought on by the war. But Mihigo hasn’t forgotten about the people in the Congo. He has created a branch of the Congolese EJEDA organization in the Syracuse community. The non-profit organization got its start in 1996 in the Congo and was established as a means to help abandoned people, the elderly, young people who were deserting military service, AIDS victims and oppressed women. The letters in the EJEDA logo stand for various meanings. The letter “E” stands for Encadrement in French, but has various meanings in English. In English, it can mean: organizing the youth for their future success, promoting a discipline for the youth to serve the community, investing in the youth to promote the common good among nations, prioritizing the youth for tomorrow’s better community and bringing all the youth together and taking care of them in various ways. The letters “JE” represent youth, the letter “D” stands for development and “A” stands for assistance to abandoned.
EJEDA, which promotes universal peace and justice, is needed in the U.S. because it can enhance the current outlook that Americans have regarding Africa and illuminate the situation in the abandoned areas of that nation. “In Syracuse,” Mihigo said, “EJEDA’s goal is to bring people together without any conditions, preach peace, reinforce African solidarity between African Americans and new African immigrants, and promote the respect of humans and the dignity of life. I am organizing a community whose Congolese members will help to teach the history of Congo/Africa in our community.” EJEDA accomplishes this through demonstrations of African music and dancing and through theatre productions.
Mihigo is seeking support, members and funds for the EJEDA organization, which presently boasts 40 members. They meet the third Saturday of each month at one another’s homes, Syracuse University and area churches. Mihigo said the members are a diverse group and are predominantly African refugees and other immigrants.
Gordon Kotars, a parishioner at Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse, came to the festival and was a member of the resettlement committee that helped Mihigo and his family when they arrived in Syracuse. “The point they are trying to get across to the community is valid,” commented Kotars. “The Congolese people are very proud. They want to blend in with this community. EJEDA can promote peace amongst everybody. I think what Cyprien’s trying to do here is a great thing.” The festival began with those in attendance singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” and then the Congolese national anthem, “Debout Congolais,” in French.
Mihigo gave a presentation that explained the goals of EJEDA, stressing the importance of empowering women, connecting with African Americans and teaching African traditions to the young. Mihigo stated, “I encourage women to share their experiences with one another. When you do that, you can find ways to work for peace. I want to empower women regardless of origin, especially those from Africa through education, writing and basic computer technology. I want to prepare them to join other women’s groups and to be able to discuss issues and participate in social activities.” Mihigo said that some African refugee women are unable to write, so his organization would like to open a writing/learning center. He also said he has arranged for a group of students at Syracuse University to teach the women. Mihigo said he teaches African traditions to the young through dancing and music and by encouraging them to read about the history of Africa and to converse with people in the community. Mihigo hosts the young people at his house for a few hours every Saturday where they dance to the music of Africa.
Time was allotted during the event to allow the audience to ask questions. A member of the audience asked Mihigo if there was any way that the youth of the community could become more involved with the EJEDA organization. He was concerned about the treatment of some Congolese students during a disagreement at H.W. Smith School in Syracuse during the past school year. The incident involved Congolese students and African-American students.
Professor Mugo addressed the question. She said that history links the African descendants together and it is important for people to understand and respect one another’s differences. “Families have to take the responsibility for educating their children about respecting one another,” stated Mugo. “EJEDA offers workshops to create awareness of the need for peace and will continue to work on this issue.” Following the question and answer period, those in attendance were encouraged to partake of a buffet laden with African and American foods. Included on the buffet was an African food, cassava, a root vegetable similar to a potato. All enjoyed the food and it served as a catalyst for socialization among the guests.
Various demonstrations of African song and dance followed the dinner. Ann Mayes had a special interest in attending the event that day. A volunteer with the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services for the last nine years, Mayes tutored Mihigo when he attended Onondaga Community College. “I’ve known Cyprien since he came to the U.S.,” said Mayes. She said she enjoyed the festival. “I thought Van Robinson’s presentation was excellent,” commented Mayes. For information about the EJEDA organization, contact Mihigo at his e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.