Building Unity Amongst South Sudanese Youth
Q&A’s with Olga Loggale
Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?
Hello, my name is Olga Loggale. I was born in Khartoum, Sudan prior to the separation of the country, however my family is from the country now known as South Sudan. I immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2002 but have since come to call Edmonton, Alberta home after moving here in 2003.
Although I have lived in Alberta for nearly 20 years, I still feel that I will never become accustomed to our harsh winters. Nonetheless, after starting kindergarten and finishing my undergrad here, immersing myself in the Edmonton community, and getting to know the ins and outs of the city, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
What community/communities are you part of ?
I like to think that I am apart of many communities within Edmonton. For starters, I am apart of both the general South Sudanese community, as well as the South Sudanese Youth community. I am also more broadly apart of our Black community through my identity and my involvement in initiatives and organizations such as YEGTheComeUp, or the Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership program. As a science enthusiast who completed a Bachelors of Science in biological sciences, I have participated in a number of science based research initiatives, and is an editor for the Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Literacy. I like to believe I am also apart of the science community. Being apart of multiple communities influences my perspectives on life by giving me multiple perspectives. I have the honour to meet and interact with such diverse populations every time I immerse myself in these communities and it is always an opportunity to learn something new. Moreover, I feel that I find a sense of peace and joy in being with these varying communities. I genuinely believe there is healing in community and I feel honoured that I get to experience this regularly. That is not to say things are always sunshine and rainbows, but even in the difficult times, it is so comforting to know that you are surrounded by others who care enough to work through challenges and make a difference.
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
I am passionate about people (cliché, I know). For as long as I can remember I have loved meeting new people, making connections, and ultimately just being around people. I think over time this has transitioned to doing community work as it allows me constant opportunities to build relationships with others. Since then, an additional passion of mine has become increasing the capacity of the communities I am so lucky to be apart of. I believe that the people around me have so much potential to be great at anything and everything they choose to do, and it is so exciting to be apart of those journeys. As for hobbies and things I do for leisure, I like to paint, do puzzles, and play guitar. I am also pretty passionate about health and fitness and spend quite a bit of time working out, running, or hiking in the summer.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
The emergence of this project was more due to reflection. For a long time, the concerns and needs of South Sudanese youth in Canada had been largely ignored by the adults and elders in the community. Our community leaders have worked tirelessly to support the integration of South Sudanese immigrants into Canada over the past few decades but have focused their efforts on the older populations within the community. As a result, South Sudanese youth within Canada have faced issues related to integration in areas such as academics, social engagement, and cultural adjustment. In acknowledging this dire need of support for our youth, the South Sudanese Youth Committee (SSYC) was formed by a group of youth across Canada to navigate ways we could address and remedy these issues. Ultimately, we came up with this project — the South Sudanese Youth of Canada national conference. More specifically, our objectives for this conference were to gather SSY across the country, identify challenges facing the SSY, brainstorm potential solutions, and develop connections to help combat the identified challenges.
This 3-day event included a basketball tournament on day 1, the actual conference on day 2, and a farewell barbecue on day 3. The basketball tournament and barbecue were crucial as they provided an opportunity for the cultivating and strengthening of relationships between attendees. The creation of these relationships was important to help facilitate open discussion on conference day, as well as execution of solutions following our event.
The structure of the conference day was divided into two parts. The first portion consisted of performances, speaker presentations speakers and a panel discussion. The aim of this portion was to provide young people an opportunity to listen and interact with elders, and leaders in the South-Sudanese community. The second portion was targeted exclusively towards the youth. Youth attended workshops focusing on the themes of I.D.E.A.S (Inspire, Discover, Engage, Achieve, and Success). These workshops offered a safe and open platform for discussion necessary for identification of the key issues facing SSY across the country. Each theme had its own workshop facilitated by a member of SSYC who posed a series of questions for discussion for a smaller group of youth which had been divided from the larger group. Following the conclusion of the workshops, all the attendees regrouped and shared their ideas and responses with each other.
What was your motivation behind this project?
I believe the main motivation for this project was to sow the seeds for sustainable change amongst South Sudanese Youth in Canada both now, and in the future. The majority of individuals that initially formed SSYC were first-generation immigrants who were raised in Canada, and therefore had grown up having to navigate a balance between Canadian, and South Sudanese culture. For many of us, this was a difficult journey with an array of challenges and hardships, but as a result we now understand the types of supports that are necessary to make either integration, or balancing two cultures, significantly easier and more successful. Moreover, we believe it is our responsibility to garner these supports and share them with our fellow youth to help tackle the challenges we are currently facing and equip youth in the future with the tools to overcome anything they may face.
How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
The reaction from the community was incredible and I do not think that any of us could have imagined such an outcome when we initially began planning. The actual conference day had nearly 200 attendees from across Canada, many of whom offered positive feedback about the execution of the conference. We found that throughout the conference, particularly on conference day during the panel discussion and workshops, the attendees were extremely engaged and more than willing to contribute to the ongoing conversations. I believe that this conveyed the desire of our youth to want to get involved and we eventually saw this with the overwhelming number of attendees who reached out to SSYC following the conference to know how they could become apart of the work we were doing.
We also received support from various elders and leaders within the SSYC community. This included those who agreed to present at the conference, as well as those who were helping behind the scenes such as the group of women coordinated cooking various traditional dishes for all the attendees on conference day. Outside of our own community, we received immense support from the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, the Edmonton Community Foundation, and of course, Rising Youth. In addition, the conference managed to gain the attention of the Edmonton Journal and CBC News.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
I believe the most prominent impact was the unity created amongst the youth in our community. The conference provided South Sudanese youth an opportunity to come together and see that we are all facing similar challenges and have the ability to work together to overcome them. The engagement from the attendees made it clear that many of them shared similar sentiments as the committee and wished to see change for themselves and future youth. An additional impact I believe this conference had was inspiring our youth to implement solutions in their communities.
At the conference, we had a feedback wall for all the attendees with two questions: “what have you learned about our communities’ challenges?” and “what have you learned about our communities’ strengths?” For the former question, many attendees spoke to the tribalism within our community, the lack of support for youth, intergenerational gaps, and a sense of apathy within our community — challenges that we similarly identified when planning the conference. However, the latter question really highlighted the sense of inspiration the conference ignited within the attendees. Here, comments such as “the youth in our community want to see a change and they have the drive to make this change”, and “[there] exists a sense of togetherness amongst youth”, were littered throughout the wall.
Additionally, I believe this conference really put us on the map with the elders in our community as it showcased our desire to be involved in our community. Since it occurred, the elders have began involving youth in events, and even reaching out to collaborate. We have been able to learn so much from our elders about our culture and life in general, which is vital for the youth who will someday become the elders and leaders of their community.
In all honestly, I am not sure that the impact we had was what I expected. While I was certainly hoping the conference would help jumpstart necessary conversations, I didn’t expect so many youths to be so eager to take immediate action. To this day, I am still ecstatic at the impact it did have on youth, and it has been an absolute pleasure seeing the positive initiatives that have arisen from it, which includes our community development taskforce that aims to change the culture within the South-Sudanese community by developing relationships (social events), providing learning opportunities (workshops) and inspiring community involvement (volunteerism).
How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
I believe that this conference was the beginning of me deciding to dedicate myself to my community. I too left the conference feeling unbelievably inspired and confident in my ability to contribute to change. During my time planning this conference I began to learn a variety of skills such as teamwork, time management, and organization, that I continue to learn and apply in the work I do. Since the first SSY conference, I have been able to collaborate with a variety of individuals and organizations within the South Sudanese community. This has included working with the elders in the community to carry out several events — including a bi-annual conference that had never before included the input of youth. I have also stepped outside of the South Sudanese community to volunteer and work with other organizations such as YEGTheComeUp and the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to help bring this project to life as the ultimate impact of planning and executing this conference was discovering my passion for people, community, and being the change I want to see.
Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
I think the most challenging part of this project was starting. Our group was adamant on this project being for the youth by the youth, and therefore wanted to complete it without too much influence from the elders in our community. Due to this, we had to navigate everything from locating a venue, to finding funding, to creating an itinerary for all three days, to advertising and marketing our project. In all honesty, it did seem a bit daunting at the beginning. The reality was that we were a group of youth with limited resources (at the start anyways), but we had an abundance of motivation and dedication within the group that really drove this project forward.
This dedication showed when we did face challenges, because everyone would immediately have a problem-solving mindset and commit themselves to overcoming it. As with most things in life, there were definitely some bumps on our path. This included everything from struggling to find funding, to time conflicts and work overload since most of us were also students at the time. Nonetheless, I think that most of these challenges could easily be overcome in the future by giving ourselves the time and grace to complete such a large project. The first conference was a learning experience, and although it went well overall, there are certainly a lot of smaller things we can tweak to improve the experience for everyone, including the planning committee. The first time really gave us a foundation, so moving forward we know what planning entails, and I think that creating an overarching plan for how to tackle the organization of the conference could really be beneficial and limit the challenges we face, and the burnout members may feel.