WBU student debunking stereotypes with a different view of Africa

 

Lamin SaWaneh

December 12, 2013

PLAINVIEW -- LaMin SaWaneh doesn’t dispute the challenges that face those who live in or have emigrated from Africa. He does, however, wish to offer an alternate view.

With that goal in mind, the soccer player who is a junior economics and finance major at Wayland Baptist University, began a blog site that can be accessed both through Facebook and Tumblr under the title, “howiviewafrica” (How I View Africa).

“I’m just trying to educate the public on different subjects — based on Africa, Africans’ perspective, Africans in the U. S. and the diaspora and back home, just to show them a different side of what we don’t normally see on TV here,” he said.

While SaWaneh came to Wayland from Atlanta, Ga., originally he is from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Now 23, he came to the States in 1999, at the age of 10, along with his sister, as a refugee from the Diamond Wars. His parents were not able to get out of the country and have since both died of natural causes. SaWaneh said he has lost other family members as a result of the violence and conflict in Africa.

The soccer player explained that the blog has its origins in both his Christian faith and the stereotypes he has faced over the years.

“It’s not the poverty. It’s not the killing,” he said. “That goes on, but I feel like that also goes on in every country. But in terms of Africa, that’s all (people) think about — ‘Oh man, Africans, we’re starving, we don’t have food, living in the jungle.’ It’s nothing like that. I’ve never seen lions alive.” He said, adding that he has never even been to a zoo.

SaWaneh uses the blog to post his thoughts on a variety of subjects ranging from culture to racism and then allows those following the blog to respond and add their own perspectives. That is part of the reason he chose the name of “How I View Africa.”

“It’s multi-cultural. Everyone can relate. I want every individual to represent that ‘I’ because when you say ‘I,’ ‘how I view Africa,’ you are talking about yourself and that’s the only way the stereotype can break because all of us have different views,” he said.

SaWaneh came to Plainview and Wayland Baptist University in 2011, right after his father died, and he said that was a pivotal time in his life. He had no faith, he had no real passion.

“I was just lost, searching,” he said.

However, he continued, through the course of the previous year he kept running into people who would encourage him to seek out God and work to develop a close relationship with Him. He met his girlfriend and she convinced him to pray, which was something he admitted he had never really done before.

“I think having made that step, I started becoming more comfortable in my faith, growing more,” he said.

When the opportunity to come to Wayland presented itself, he took advantage of it, realizing that the university would provide a consistent Christian environment that would allow him to grow, both spiritually and intellectually.

Once in Plainview, he began attending Harvest Christian Fellowship, but he also studied the lives and teachings of leaders such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. He was intrigued by Gandhi’s notion that in order to change the world, one has to look within one’s self. He was fascinated by the spiritual strength that Mandela demonstrated in his practice of forgiveness after his years of imprisonment — and he was moved by his pastor’s sermon on multi-culturalism and how God views society.

“That service just hit me like a light bulb,” he said, and thus was born How I View Africa.

Since its inception, SaWaneh’s blog has attracted about 125,000 followers — approximately 117,000 on Facebook and another 5,000 or so on Tumblr.

“People just keep coming and coming,” SaWaneh said. “I think it’s just God, mainly, because I’m too busy (with school and soccer) to promote it.”

Those numbers amaze SaWaneh, and also give credence to his instincts about the blog. From those 125,000 followers have come a variety of interesting conversations. A continuous one is racism and one of the things that SaWaneh works to point out is that “racism” and cultural and social discontent flow in many directions.

One instance on which he focused involved a post of a Caucasian woman who attended a wedding in Nigeria wearing traditional native attire. He explained that the image offended many people because they thought it was wrong for a Caucasian woman to wear traditional attire.

He talked about that conflict.

“Racism in the U. S., having been living here for almost 13 years, I know that it still exists, not just within whites and blacks, it exists between blacks and blacks, themselves, whites and whites. I mean, yesterday I received a message from a lady that commented on one of the posts about this white lady wearing traditional clothing. I knew the response I was going to get, that many Africans weren’t pleased.

“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. I don’t believe in racism. I don’t promote it, but it’s something that we need to talk about as a society and we need to get rid of, not just in the U. S., but even in Africa. I have friends from Sudan and in Sudan most of the natives are more dark complexion compared to a North African or some western Africans. That doesn’t make it okay. ‘Oh, this person is darker than me. I’m just a little bit black,’ ” he said — his frustration apparent.

“It doesn’t make any sense at all,” he continued. “I feel like we’re all humans and we’re all made differently and unique, in God’s image, which is something I truly believe. It’s something we need to celebrate and acknowledge, not make fun of it and throw it aside.”

That is why SaWaneh is so devoted to his blog, and he believes it is why God is blessing his work. He went back to something his pastor continually tells him, that everyone is a minister in their own way. It is why the “I” is so important to the title.

“I think it’s just God ministering through me,” he said. “I’m just amazed. I get so excited. It’s making my faith stronger, knowing that I have my own voice. I mean, even though you’re living in this world, every individual is powerful and everybody does have a voice.”

While the blog is an important part of SaWaneh’s life, completing his education is, as well, although he is not quite sure what course he will follow once he graduates. He may stay in the United States if he has the opportunity, but he also knows he can be of service in his native home as well and that is important to him.

“Sierra Leone needs all the help it can get,” he said, adding that it is important for Africans from all countries to get a good education and use it to benefit their homelands. He knows how important it is for the future development of his homeland to have educated people helping the country work through its developmental processes.

Even then, though, he returns to his blog.

“That, also, is part of what the blog represents — How I View Africa. You have to start from the grassroots, which is your homeland. In order for Africa to be where it needs to be, every country needs to get better,” he said.

To find SaWaneh’s blog, enter “howiviewafrica” in the search bar on both Facebook and Tumblr.