Venus from Maravi Land

A vast empire once stretched from the coat of Mozambique to central and south Malawi and even southern Zambia. The Maravi empire, meaning ‘people of fire’, lasted between 1500 and 1700. With the arrival of British missionaries, this land was declared British protectorate and renamed Nyasaland, referring to the Nyasa people hailing from the banks of Lake Nyasa in present-day Malawi. Gaining independence in 1964, the country changed its name to Malawi in honour of their Maravi ancestors and adapting it to the Western pronunciation.

© Venus Mwangonde - 10/03/2015

© Venus Mwangonde – 10/03/2015

It is fair to say that many people would have heard of Malawi through the story of Madonna’s adopted child. Here a young Tumbuka woman named Venus is happy to introduce us to Malawi and tell us a different story about her native country.

Between land and lake, this landlocked country is also nicknamed ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Just like many African nations, Malawi is made up of a rich cultural diversity with more than 10 ethnic groups co-living. Venus proudly states that she is from the northern region of Rumphi. This is where the mountainous landscape would take someone’s breath away and where lots of happy memories come back the mind for Venus who misses the Malawian lifestyle and her summers spent bathing in the lake. Venus says “in the North, the Tumbuka are originally a group of cattle raisers and now they depend heavily on education. Also compared to other Malawians, they mostly focus on getting rid of evil spirits making them fond of witchcraft.”

Venus also carries the Chewa name of Tamikani meaning ‘Give praise’. The Chewa people are another main group based in the central region of the country where the capital, Lilongwe, is located. At the age of 7, Venus arrived in the capital city where she learned the Chewa language until she moved to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. She describes this region where “traditional dances are important and people depend on farming. It is there where they grow tabacco exported around the world contrasting with the southern regions of Malawi that cultivate and export high quantities of tea.” Although they present cultural differences, Venus reminds us that in the warm heart of Africa “people are welcoming, they treat you as if you are part of them and they try to find someone who can speak your language to interact with you. People share food with you.” Malawian cuisine is known to be tasty and not only does the food taste good but almost all Malawian families possess a plot of land to grow their own food. “Lake Malawi has apparently the largest variety of fish and just a dish of fish with rice tastes so good!”

Venus Mwangonde - 10/03/2015

© Venus Mwangonde – 10/03/2015
On the roads of Malawi

Mostly Catholic with a visible Muslim minority, Malawians’ beliefs extend to the vision that their first president, Dr. Banda Hastings, had for the country. At their independence in 1964, Dr. Banda Hastings gave the current name of the country and united Malawians under his government. Venus adds “I haven’t experienced those years when he was in power but I heard that people today still believe in his policies and some say that if he was still alive Malawi would have been a stronger nation.” The transition to independence never plunged Malawi into a civil war and in 1971 Dr. Banda Hastings was declared ‘president-for-life’. Although authoritarian, he protected his people from armed conflict and all Dr. Banda’s money was ploughed back into developing Malawi and used to build of a reputable boarding school called Kamuzu Academy.

After completing a Bachelor at the South Africa Monash Campus, Venus arrived in Australia in February 2014 to start a Master of Logistics. Her dream is to bring her expertise to Malawi but first she sees Australia as an opportunity to build on her experience and draw on Australia’s expertise in logistics. “In Malawi we have coal mines and the research shows that there are poor internal operations to bring production to consumers.” She plans to go back to Malawi to improve the logistics of the coal mining sector which would be an economic plus for the country.

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The Ripple Effects of Your Actions

Rugare receiving the 2014 Social Enterprise Award at 3000+ Business Awards.  Melbourne Business Networks

Rugare receiving the 2014 Social Enterprise Award at 3000+ Business Awards. Melbourne Business Networks

Born in the United Kingdom and raised in Zimbabwe, Rugare arrived in Australia at the age of 15 to start a new life. Australia has been, and is, a place of opportunities and freedom for this young entrepreneur whose mind brims with social venture ideas – for his home and host country.
Rugare, meaning ‘God’s Peace’ in Shona language, belongs to the Shona people – one of the main ethnic groups of Zimbabwe. The Shona are known for being artistic and skilled stone carvers since the time of Great Zimbabwe, beginning in the 11th Century. Zimbabwe is a name that also comes from the Shona language meaning ‘Great Stone House’. We don’t know yet if Rugare’s social actions and desire to empower others will be carved in history but here is the story of a man of action.

Living in the third biggest city of Zimbabwe, Mutare, near the border of Mozambique, the 15 year-old Rugare already dreamt of new horizons with a thirst for fresh opportunities. Feeling alienated from his young peers and finding hard to fully express himself back home, he explains his journey to Australia, “I really wanted to explore and do something different with my life so I wrote a letter to a family friend here in Australia and explained I wanted to pursue my education here. He was not necessarily a wealthy man but then he took the initiative to go to schools in Melbourne and explain our family circumstances. One of the private schools gave me a part scholarship and he paid for my school fees, airfares. He looked after me so that’s how my journey to Australia really began. It was an extraordinary experience!”

But this isn’t the happy ending of the story. Once Year 12 was completed, families from his school raised money for Rugare to continue his tertiary education in Australia. The humble Rugare started little and got bigger jobs to finance the other half of his studies. After completing an Arts Law degree in property development work, he still was hungry for social ventures. Through his mentor and meeting the right people, he was introduced to Ducere where he became the Director of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel. Interestingly, Ducere has a focus on education by offering online courses in business and management delivered by the world’s most successful individuals.

But this isn’t all! The Ducere Foundation is also an inspiration for this social entrepreneur who recently founded the Gomo Foundation. The genesis of the foundation originates from Ruagre’s trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe in July 2013 where he visited one of his uncles working on a community project to build a school in Ruwange, Zimbabwe. He was told by his relative how the community came together to build the school for their children. “Uncles [of the community] would come back from the capital city with bags of cement to build the school. The community would cook food for the labourers. Everybody had their role to play in the development and building of this school. I was so touched, moved and inspired by this because, despite the economic situation, they were really taking matters in their own hands for their future and community.”

3000+ Business Awards.  Melbourne Business Networks

Ruagre presenting the Gomo Foundation at the 3000+ Business Awards, Melbourne Business Networks

The community spirit is well and truly alive within the Gomo Foundation and Rugare states that it is a platform where people can make their own contribution and, where donors and recipients are empowered. On one side, young girls who already have a vision for their lives receive Gomo’s scholarship to complete their primary and secondary education. On the other side and with a zero-dollar-on-adminstration policy, Gomo’s contributors benefit from the Leadership Assisting Program where people offer their skill set, receive training and are free to express their skills and talents in the foundation to support those in need. Gomo’s Literacy Program also aims to revive African literature in the newly built schools and preserve African native languages by allowing children to write stories in order to publish them and redistribute the books.

Zimbabwean school girl

Zimbabwean school girl

With nine girls sponsored in 2014 for education, the Gomo Foundation has the very high target for 2015 to get hundreds of girls into classrooms. “We run like a business, we are agile and we want to make an impactful difference”.
Rugare’s experience of Australians’ generosity and support has definitely inspired him to now pass on these values to those more in need. “Australians are so generous and they want to transform something if it is wrong. To me, Australia means freedom, full self-expression, safety, opportunity and love”.

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Flourishing African Australians

2014 is now closing in the warmth of the Australian summer and it is time to reflect over the last year and thank everybody for supporting Far From Africa.

Far From Africa has now been running for one and half years and has reached almost 10,000 views across many countries. The top three countries being Australia, the United Stated and Brazil, and there is an increasing number of viewers from African nations.

I would like to thank all the Africans and Afro-Australians who kindly accepted to be interviewed for the benefits of our readers to show a multicultural Australia and their contributions. Remember African Australians are artists, business people, students, politicians, university professors, doctors, and more. They are part of all the walks of Australian life.

Last month on November 7th, Celebration of African Australians Inc., and in presence of Vedran Drakulic (CEO of Gandel Philanthropy), gave me the Community Initiative of the Year Award at Parliament of Victoria in Melbourne.

Sisay Dinky,  Narional Execituve and Victoria Coordinator of Celebration of African Australians Inc., Marion Cabanas, Wirter of Far From Africa and Vedran Drakulic, CEO of Gandell Philanthropy.

Sisay Dinku, National Executive and Victoria Coordinator of Celebration of African Australians Inc., Marion Cabanes, writer of Far From Africa and Vedran Drakulic, CEO of Gandel Philanthropy.

Thanks to all FFA interviewees, friends, cultural and community associations and Jodi Gray (FFA photographer) for all their support, their time and invaluable contribution to this community initiative.

May the year 2015 bring to African Australians and the wider Australian society peace, friendship and respect in a prosperous Australia.

The man-made differences and barriers put in between us are simply ridiculous because… it’s proven, we all come from Africa!

Stay tuned on Far From Africa and its Facebook page for more FFA stories!

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The Burundian Connection

Liana and Belise are Burundian women and although their roots take them back to the small East African country, Liana and Belise met in Australia. Belise, a professional in accounting, has been in Melbourne since 2005 and has been away from her native country since then. She finally revisited Burundi last December. At her end, Liana arrived in Australia in March 2013 through an AusAid scholarship to study international community development at Victoria University. The two women have differing experiences of Burundi and they describe in their own words what makes them so proud and feel love for their country.



Liana describes “Burundi is a small and beautiful country located in the East part of Africa along the banks of Lake Tanganyika where you can eat the tastiest fish. Burundi is a warm country with welcoming people and rich in culture”. What is a bit less known about the country is that it was first colonised by the Germans who ceded control to Belgium at their defeat at the end of World War I in 1918. At that time and until early 1960, Burundi and Rwanda were a single colony known as Ruanda-Urundi. Belise and Liana agree on what makes them proud of Burundi, “the Burundian drummers are very well known and they make us proud. It’s about what they sing when drumming”, continues Liana. “The lyrics are about the pride of the country, of being Burundian and what the country has accomplished”. Not only does the sound of the drums have a deep meaning and bring pride but “all young women are very proud of performing traditional dances. Also, the songs have a meaning, to a particular group and teach the history of the country”. Drumming, dancing and singing reflect perfectly the Burundian culture as they are strong socialising elements of Burundian society. Burundians are very social and Liana, who is from the capital city of Bujumbura, talks about her experience. “People take time to talk to each other. At celebration events like births, people come together, play music and dance. The particularity of Bujumbura is that it is a small and beautiful capital where there are strong social connections between people and it is easy to get to know each other which is even emphasised in the Burundian countryside”.


Belise whilst travelling across Burundi

Belise, who left Burundi as an 8 year-old with all her family, spent about 11 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania before arriving in Australia in 2005. That same year when Liana landed in Australia, Belise took off for Bujumbura to rediscover her native country and reunite with family members who have been away from her for too long. Belise too describes “throughout my road trip across Burundi, I was welcomed and fed in every house. I’m amazed how friendly, hospitable and peaceful Burundians are”. With her father from the Northern town of Kayanza (near Rwanda) and her mother originally from the central town of Gitega, Belise got to reconnect with Burundi on many levels; with the vast green hilly land, her loved ones and friendships formed during her time in Tanzania. Burundi, like Rwanda, is the native land of the Twa people and is also inhabited by Hutus and Tutsis who have also suffered hard times during their history. Today the people’s connectedness makes the Burundians society peaceful, strong and ready to rebuild the country.

Liana says “the strength of our community is social cohesion. It makes you feel you’re part of something. Poverty is really relative, the fact of not having a work and earning a living it’s big here [in Australia] but back in Burundi it’s okay for a sick person who can’t work because they’re supported by someone, the neighbour for example. We are very interdependent and it keeps us  stronger because what matters is not what we have but what we share”. Liana is very grateful for this opportunity to study international development in Australia as she is passionate about sharing her skills and knowledge to rebuild the country. “It was a great opportunity for me  because I came to that stage of my life where I really wanted to work with people back in Burundi because we are in this rebuilding stage of the country and I thought I lacked some skills”. She found inspiration for social work from a previous experience with the Friends Women Association to improve women’s conditions especially for those with HIV in areas stricken by the civil war. She claims that it was “a life-changing experience to see the project empowering women and breaking this cycle of trauma. Women were socially and economically excluded”. She witnessed “they [women] found strength. Women who fought against each other and are today sitting side by side and starting a business together. That is what showed me that if at grassroots level people who intensely lived that conflict period can manage to get to that level of reconciliation so nothing can stop them to rebuild and follow a better future for them, us and future generations”.Liana talks about the same women who in order to end the war in Burundi managed to create a coalition of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa women to be one united voice at peace talks. Since then, it has been decreed that a 30% quota of women must be repesented in Burundi’s decision making structures.

Today Liana and Belise admirably follow the steps of their aunties and elders who have shown love, compassion, peace and unity between one another. The two friends are now contributing in Australia. Belise joined the Africa Media Australia non-profit organisation to assist with filming activities to broadcast news throughout Australia’s African community and Liana is an active member of I Am A Peace Soldier campaign launched in June this year by the charismatic and role model David Nuyol Vincent to encourage people for ‘fight’ for peace with words and love.

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Far From Africa invites Natasha Mashakada

Natasha Mashakada

Natasha Mashakada

Natasha Mashakada is of Zambian and Zimbabwean origins with heritage from the Ndebele and Shona groups. Alongside her Shona surname, her name Natasha means ‘Thank you’ in Bemba (Zambian language) and she also carries the Ndebele/Zulu name Mbali meaning ‘Flower’. After much travelling, Natasha has kept with her the places and people that have have left an imprint on the woman she is now. “My family friends and people I have come to know and love are just as much family to me even though they are not blood-related.” She was born in the United Kingdom, lived in Zimbabwe and she has now been living in Australia for six years where she is involved in activities promoting social justice and empowerment of the socially disadvantaged, marginalised and stigmatised.

This month Far From Africa has the privilege of publishing two of Natasha’s poems for us to reflect on our connection to people and our natural habitat. Here Natasha invites the reader to let her words resonate with their own feelings and understanding.

As Sure As The Dawn

Aware, though uncertain in the mist of the abyss.

Drawn to home, for there alive, my heart beats.

For Instant thoughts of loved ones and memories I miss.

Those enforced atrophic titles I plunge to remove in my defeats.

For as sure as the dawn we will arrive!

Fear is distant and replaced with a hope not slain.

A dream once lost, now vigorously acclaims to be alive.

We seek to salvage victory today and again!

Our endeavour, not feverishly languid but compassed by bountiful zeal

Our debt of dread is diminished and done.

Orange red-tinted, there we rise in the warmth we feel

Oh look! A sight for all to see, as we claim the sun!

For as sure as the dawn we will arrive!

Fear is distant and replaced with a hope not slain.

A dream once lost, now vigorously acclaims to be alive.

We seek to salvage victory today and again!

Seasoned Blue Bird

Picture perfect we are, like the clouds, only they seem to draw near to us below the bough.

Instantaneously I imagine fine moments where butterflies rest easy on sunflowers

And lilies create hymns of ancient peace and serenity.

The essence of both builds harmony amongst us all!

For so long it has been the embarking of something unimaginable.

And if so, it will remain transparent to our existence.

The seasoned bird knows the song so well…

It tells us of

Hidden blue blemishes on

The earth and the erosion of all creation-

We had lost what could have been gained.

And now it regenerates within us a vengeance for something…more.

Bless the moment that raises us from the destruction of us all.

Release it into the open and become one with all- an encirclement of new beginnings.

And perhaps then and only can we find the truth in it all along.

In this mesmeric moment I am back to the reality of the present

To rekindle myself into his arms to stay.

His warm invades within me a simplicity that rescinded all the complexity of it away…away.

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