Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There are many lessons taught in the school of life

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Life has a way of seeming like a classroom with endless lessons.

Some of my learning moments in the school of life have occurred in Winnipeg while walking along the city's streets, visiting with friends or attending a community event. One particular lesson came from reflecting on some compelling stories individuals shared of how Winnipeg became a safe haven for them.

I recall on one occasion attending a youth event where a group of African teenagers re-enacted how they and their families fled their countries when armed conflict broke out. Their plight included seeking refuge in a refugee camp and eventually embarking on a journey that brought them to Winnipeg. I remember how I felt.

I had a similar mix of emotions the day I observed a group of African mothers, all forcibly displaced from their countries of birth, embark on the journey of learning English, for most of them, for the first time.

On the one hand, as you reflect on their experiences, you are thankful they are alive and safe and living in a context where different opportunities will be available for them.

And on the other hand, your mind is flooded with questions about how human suffering and struggle indiscriminately can be thrust upon young and old, male and female.

You also wrestle with the reality that due to violent conflicts, the continent of Africa loses generations of young people. You empathize with the mothers who are striving to settle in and survive in a new socio-cultural environment.

For all of them, the journey of new beginnings is not easy, but it must be travelled.

And as you learn what these individuals overcame in their plight and realize their resolute human will to live, you recognize their courage, inner strength and spirit of resiliency. You recognize humanity's lesson of the shared aspirations we all have -- to daily live in secure, stable and peaceful environments.

We desire a sense of security where basic human resources such as shelter, food, water and clothing can be met.

We desire to live in environments where our human dignity is valued and our freedoms to dream and hope for fruitful futures are not infringed upon.

Sadly for many from places of armed conflict, political strife, or fragile states, these very basic rights and freedoms are limited or absent.

Often when you ask members of Winnipeg's African community about the limitations, the issue of destructive political leadership arises. The discourse indicates in some of these countries, there is a pressing need for constructive, servant-leadership that is people-centred and able to promote and sustain democratic principles and practices. There is need for leadership that can effectively facilitate conditions for human security, respect for human rights and opportunities that allow for human development.

There is need for leadership that is willing to embark on a different journey, one that contributes to life's lessons, that makes real three meals a day, access to education for children, readily available health care and citizens who are able to embrace their countries as safe havens.

It is these kinds of life's lessons that will allow future generations on African soil to tell and re-enact a different narrative -- a narrative of peace, justice and security rather than one of violence, injustice and insecurity.

A native of Botswana, Mavis Ntshebo Matenge is a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba where she is pursuing peace and conflict studies as a Commonwealth Scholar with the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice. Matenge is a graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Luther College in the United States.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 A11

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