Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tamaraneh Society Fundraiser for Sierra Leonean students - this Saturday

TAMARANEH FUNDRAISING DINNER
Sat, Feb 9, 2008 (6 pm - 10 pm)
Northgate Senior Lions’ Centre
(7524 - 139 Ave)
The Faces are All Different

By MINISTER FAUST

African faces. Some people can’t tell them apart. And others see only the face of African tragic victimhood. Each false vision denies a range of beauty, individuality and hope.

Humanity—and therefore the human face—began in Africa, somewhere around Kenya. The Leakey anthropology dynasty has been asserting this for half a century; it’s commonly accepted wisdom in science. But during a recent CBC report by Wendy Mesley on a DNA “roots-tracing” agency, street interviews suggested that few people know that Africa is humanity’s common home.

Fewer still seemed to know that modern humans (Cro-Magnons) originated in Africa and only later spread out to Eurasia, Oceania and the Americas. How long they looked “African” is unknown—moreover, contrary to Western stereotypes, Africans do not form a monolithic physical type. As physical anthropologists are fond of saying, because humanity has dwelt longer in Africa than anywhere else there is greater physical variation among African populations than among non-Africans.

Nelson Mandela, like many South Africans, has features that, hair aside, wouldn’t cause a second glance among many East Asian populations; there are the peoples of the so-called Pygmy nationalities of the central continental rain forest, mostly under 4’11”; there are tall and slender Masai and Ethiopians whose bodies seem designed either for ballet or marathons; and there are the frequently voluptuous peoples of Ghana.



Skin tones vary from the brownish-yellow of non-Arab (ie African) Egyptians to the “blue” black of some Nubians. Shapes and sizes of noses and lips range, hair textures range, body shapes range (and keep in mind that within each of these broad types, variety reigns).

One of the reasons why many in the West find the notion of an African Ancient Egypt so difficult to grasp is that “Africans don’t look like that!” In North America, the dominant image of Africanity was that of West Africans whose ancestors were bludgeoned into generations of forced labour. But the faces, hair textures and skin tones found on Egypt’s ancient paintings and sculptures are common today among neighbouring African populations in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and even Uganda—all from the eastern side of the continent.

When it comes to Africa’s modern face, scars from rape and war, lesions from disease and hollowing of the eyes from starvation have dominated our collective imagination, blinding us to the visages all around us. While the disfigurations are far too often real, they recite to us only chapters of the epic novel. Sierra Leone’s many faces have shed far too many tears, but the face of Memunatu Kamara bears and breeds many smiles. A survivor of Sierra Leone’s vicious 1991-1999 civil war, she’s the founder of the Tamaraneh Society (misspelled even on the group’s website and in the URL as “Tamarineh”). Tamaraneh raises funds in Canada to put over 1000 Sierra Leonean students through school at Tamaraneh’s “Alberta, Canada Primary and Junior High School” in Romano Village. With further funding, Tamaraneh plans to open the “Alberta, Canada Health Centre.”

“We have many women who are dying in child birth,” says Kamara. “We want to have a place where women can give birth to babies, or where seniors who are seriously sick [can get free medical care]. We have over 1000 students, so we need to have a hospital.”

Kamara says minimal help comes from a government still ailing from the civil war, and which is concentrating on urban development. In fact, of 15 teachers for Tamaraneh’s huge student body, six are actually volunteers. Parents are providing food and other basic necessities for the teachers in a country which “was burnt down to pieces” by a rebel force that destroyed livestock and houses, and raped, mutilated and massacred people. Ten years of civil war left 70 000 dead.

Kamara says she first decided devote her life to the cause of Sierra Leone when she was in a refugee camp, where she was president of the refugees’ ad-hoc government. She began advocating for better conditions since “the United Nations built for us only tents. Then we decided to build houses using soil blocks.”

On Feb 9, Tamaraneh is hosting its annual “There is Enough!” dinner and development simulation, the proceeds from which will fund their school.

“I know how Sierra Leoneans have suffered,” says Kamara. “And I know Canadians are very, very helpful. Many immigrant Canadians have suffered a lot. They know war; this is why Canadians have sympathetic feelings.”

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