Kumvana Fellow Eric Otieno in the snow

Poem: Changing season

A personal poem written by Onyango Otieno, an entrepreneur, author, mental health advocate, activist and 2019 Kumvana Fellow

At the backdrop of #InternationalWomensDay, my mother’s tenacious love fetches the blistering memory of her vulnerability; the boldness and fortitude with which she raised me. I grew to root life in no other way than water strong bonds and connections within my relationships such that I ache when I feel people I care about hide me their truth or openness.

I wanted to see the side of Canada that doesn’t show on the news and talk to people who may be considered underprivileged.

This far land to which I came with a gaping mind to grasp all I could, I have met one of the most beautiful people my existence has hobnobbed with. When the Engineers Without Borders Canada team asked who I’d like to see for my fellowship in Canada, I said I’d want to feel how people live in smaller communities away from the cities since most of my friends who fly out overseas for conferences and other activities only stop by the big cities and sleep in the big hotels.

They pitched me to Fredericton, New Brunswick, a quiet beautiful town at the East Coast of the country, where I have spent half of my chapter placement this week. Here I have had mind boggling conversations with social justice activists, artists, entrepreneurs, professors and incredible managers of both thriving and growing organizations. They were profoundly honest with me concerning the work they do, spending time with me to explain it all passionately.

I’ve learned how out here people know very little of Africa and misrepresentation of my continent ensues. It’s funny how back home we speak English and follow Hollywood, American & European politics so intricately, yet the people who own these mega corporations and systems of governance communicate Africa to their populace as though it is one block of a nation, often selling ideas of impoverishment, hostility and damnation. They know nothing about our culture, our music nor our languages. Inversely, I see how this same system contributes to Africa dehumanizing the West in the sense that we think they carry all the solutions we need and things are always good on their side. Far from the truth.

I have tried to befriend the snow. It changes you.

I’ve learned of a woman here who changed the course of Canadian history. Viola Desmond; a Canadian businesswoman of Black Nova Scotian descent. In 1946 she challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia by refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre. Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada. In late 2018 Desmond became the first Canadian-born woman to appear alone on a Canadian bank note—a $10 bill, and named a National Historic Person. Powerful powerful woman!

I have tried to befriend the snow. It changes you. The storms had a toll on me but I am now recuperating. People have been kind to me, even though I have only seen just about 5 black people this whole week. I met a Kenyan from Mombasa too. Felt so good listening to his crisp Swahili so far away from home. It’s funny being around people who speak English as their first language, and in other cases their only language. I miss the intimacy of speaking Swahili and Sheng’.

Your can follow Onyango on Twitter or Instagram.

Support African leaders like Onyango with a donation to EWB’s Kumvana Fellowship program. 

Donate now

Donate Now

Help us build a better world

Donate Now