By Julie Albers
I have always been a big fan of Africa, and after I volunteered there during my GAP year, I have become truly addicted to this fascinating continent. So when Bas Defize’s email popped up announcing that the Africa Day in Amsterdam was looking for volunteers, I didn’t have to think twice. Together with my friend Pomme, I decided to defeat the November rain and ever-delayed trains, and woke up at 6 a.m. on a precious Saturday morning to start my adventure.
We arrived at the Royal Institute for the Tropics (KIT), a beautiful building next to the Tropenmuseum to attend the annual Africa Day event, organised by the Max van der Stoel Foundation, open to everyone. Various lectures, debates, workshops, movies and even fashion are hosted to stimulate debates about international cooperation. This year’s theme: work in Africa, with topics ranging from democracy in Ghana to women farmers in Sierra Leone.
The tasks assigned to volunteers were not that challenging: checking tickets, working in the cloakroom and promoting Heineken’s latest drink. But that was not the point of this day. While casually checking someone’s ticket, you suddenly see that famous Africa correspondent from the NOS strolling by. Or in your spare time, you could sneak in at the opening speech by Lilianne Ploumen, minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.
Although we couldn’t attend many of the lectures, we did catch some of the current debates about Africa. During the Q&A session with the minister, there was much dialogue about the role China plays in Africa and how the Netherlands should position and behave itself accordingly.
An introduction given by Amnesty International shed light upon the issue between the ICC and Kenyatta, the president of Kenya. He has been accused of being responsible for ethnic violence after the elections in 2007, but is still president of the country. Also, many African countries feel that the ICC convicts merely African leaders.
What is the importance of organizing such a day? For me, it was a true eye-opener. To actually see the large number of (Dutch) people interested in Africa, engaging with its problems but also valuing its richness and qualities, really inspired me. This was not only demonstrated by the fact that the day was sold out, or by the number of hot-shot speakers, but also by the captivated audience. From journalists to the local African community, from interested students to speakers from Africa, it added up to a rich diversity. People from all quarters of the compass that you might otherwise never meet, gathered here to share their common passion and love for Africa.
Although I might prefer to attend as a regular guest next year, enjoying lectures for free and having enough time to socialize and spot famous people are only some of the advantages of volunteering. Oh, and did I mention the African after party in Hotel Arena? African food, Omar Ka and other African bands performing, African people showing us stiff Dutchies how to dance… Need I say more?
Now that your interest in Africa has been sparked, I would highly recommend reading a book by Lieve Joris, one the best travel journalists on Africa (also translated in English). Or get a free subscription for One World (unfortunately only Dutch), a magazine about development work and international relations. In any case, I hope to see you at the Africa Day 2014!