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Ayaan Ismaciil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Jackie Obungah before the “The Political Power of Language and Literature: An Evening with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o” at the 2019 Afrocentrism Conference.

Welcome to the team Jackie Obungah!

July 14, 2020
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We are excited to welcome our new co-op student Jackie Obungah to the SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement team! In order to get to know Jackie, our Community Engagement Coordinator Fiorella Pinillos and our Program Assistant Paige Smith asked Jackie about her time as an undergraduate student in International Studies, her previous work in community engagement, and what she hopes to pursue after completing her degree.

International Student to Community Engagement Specialist

Fiorella Pinillos: Jackie, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you’re interested in community engagement?

Jackie Obungah: Right, a little about myself… I am an international student from Kenya. I moved here about four years ago, and I’m majoring in International Studies. I’m in my last year this year, thankfully. And the reason I’m interested in community engagement has a lot to do with my migration journey here for school. That consistent seeking of a sense of community is deeply important to me.

Having a community is always the thing that makes you feel really settled. It doesn’t make you feel at home, because there is nothing that quite compares to home, but it makes you feel like you’re anchored in some way. I felt like I didn’t just exist in place. I could make an impact in some way or another.

As someone who is really invested in creating spaces for dialogue and learning that centre Black youth, it is important for me to take time to form meaningful community relationships. Community engagement is a way to achieve this. It allows me to participate in the systems of learning that challenge my viewpoints, and allow me to grow and expand my perspectives.

Jackie Obungah and Ayaan Ismaciil making introductions at the 2019 Afrocentrism Conference.

Fiorella: Is that why you are involved with the Afrocentrism Conference last year, with which our office was a community partner?

Jackie: The Afrocentrism conference was a product of my interest in community engagement. It began in small conversation with other Black students who felt that the current systems of learning in our respective universities of UBC and SFU were not adequately representative of our communities. It was important for us to challenge the existing colonial lens that African related discourse is explored especially in Western Canada. We turned this into action and began having the conversations on larger platforms that resulted in the conference and the event featuring Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Learning through Co-op Opportunities

Paige: So, what are you excited about this co-op with our office?

Jackie: I’m excited to work with people who are my peers. I haven’t done that in a co-op before, so that is really exciting to me. I feel like skills will just rub off on me because you guys have great chemistry working together.

Secondly, I know that we aren’t hosting any in-person events right now because of the current situation we’re in, but just seeing how that work takes shape through the work of making Below the Radar, and how we could possibly be involved in future virtual events excites me. I’m so excited for that work and to see how community engagement looks in the times of COVID.

Lastly, I am super excited to learn new skills that I’ve wanted to learn for a long time, like editing podcasts. I’m also excited to record my first podcast!

Paige: Before joining our team, you previously were working with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research initiative (CERi). What was your experience like working with that office, and how do you think that work relates to what you’re going to be doing and what you already are doing with our team?

Jackie: Working with CERi was an incredible experience, it was my definitely first time doing anything communications related, but it also was incredible because it was my first time working in Downtown Eastside. Learning and being situated in a place that had so much history and so much to learn, it allowed me to remember my positionality and what I bring to the table. In so many of my conversations, it was important to step back and consistently be the learner in those situations.

"Academia can use its resources to elevate what the community is doing, and the community can always benefit from academia in skills like research." — Jackie Obungah

I loved working with CERi because it allowed me to bridge academia and community work together, and how important it was for those two to lean on each other. Academia can use its resources to elevate what the community is doing, and the community can always benefit from academia in skills like research. Of course it was important to remember and stay grounded in the fact that community comes first.

The co-op allowed me as a student to really start to think about what my career could look like in the future. So, when I got a chance to transfer over to do communications with this team at SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, I was super excited. I wanted to keep growing my communications skills. I also love working with community partners cause I love elevating their work, and being able to learn from them.

Building Community with Migrant & Refugee Youth

Fiorella: You’ve also done a lot of different community work in Surrey. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Jackie: So oddly enough, I live in Burnaby, work in Vancouver, and am deeply connected to Surrey. It is like I am everywhere in the Lower Mainland.

Surrey is a really important city to me because it hosts a big part of the Black community, especially the Black community that is connected to having a migrant experience to Canada. There are also a lot of Black youth in Surrey who are doing incredible work at every level: high school, university level, community level, just to ensure that their communities stay together and that community successes are seen and amplified.

I was part of Ethos Lab in Surrey, which is a Black youth led co-op business model with the primary goal of providing employment opportunities to racialized youth. It has the unique focus of centering the humanity of the Black experience which is critical to the work and intentionality of the work. Working with my fellow Black peers was such a refreshing experience that meshed together both a workplace and community vibe.

"I want to be part of the growth and connection of different communities in Vancouver and beyond… I want to be around and work with youth, especially Black youth, who are migrants and refugees." — Jackie Obungah

I also was part of SFU Radius Refugee Livelihood Lab, which was also based in Surrey. A big part of that was also bringing together youth who have a migrant experience or a refugee experience, and creating a skills developing camp. We saw what skills we had to offer that could benefit the participants, particularly youth who were heading towards university. We had the experience of being in university and wanted to help them transition from high school to university. It was incredible, but it was cut short unfortunately because of COVID.

Fiorella: What would you like to do in the future after you finish university?

Jackie: That’s a really difficult question. What would I like to do in the future? I don’t know exactly what I’d like to do in the future. But I want what I do in the future to allow me to be connected to youth, to work with youth while also tying into community engagement and what it looks like to elevate their voices. I want to be part of the growth and connection of different communities in Vancouver and beyond. But I definitely want to be around and work with youth, especially Black youth, who are migrants and refugees — in Surrey, in Vancouver, in Burnaby — anywhere.

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