Looking at an old home through a new lens
Graciano Aganze left his home country Congo when he was 13 years old arriving in Aotearoa, via Uganda, aged 17. When he encountered Mixit at the Mangere Refugee Center he realised this was something he wanted to be part of and joined the Saturday programme, becoming a regular Mixer, then a Youth Leader and onto becoming the first youth rep on the Mixit Board. As Alumni he remains connected as a champion and ambassador. In time Graciano completed an electrical apprenticeship, established his own business, married and now has a son. Recently he took his family back to Africa and reflected on his homeland – through the eyes of a family man
“On the trip I wanted to connect with the land and take my family back to where I came from and visit the place of my ancestors. It was time for me to ask questions, to show my son my village and to start his understanding of where his ancestors are from – that they, and him, are from somewhere. Going back there is not much change from when I left. To unlock the situation is difficult, The lifestyles people lead, and which some are locked into, makes it hard to move forward and it’s influenced by what has happened due to the political history.
There are people who are doing well and are taking things into their own hands, like in the city of Goma, where there is a committee of entrepreneurs organizing all its infrastructure. They are supplying the fuel, gas and power, making sure it gets to the people. A lot of the infrastructure is held through this network, it’s working and there are people willing to make changes, not waiting on the government to do it..
Usually over here [in NZ]we get all the bad, gloomy news about Africa, and yes there is a lot of that – but I wanted to find the good stuff, I wanted to look at the upside. The biggest thing, for me, was seeing how people are taking action into their own hands. So, to see people taking this on, and having that spirit, was the most incredible thing I saw.
Through a man’s perspective, he developed an appreciation of his great grandfather, Ladislas Bashizi, and his relocation journey from one part of Congo to another, in order to start his own independent life where he went on to become a successful leader. Graciano is inspired by this, sees the parallels in his own re-location journey and has hopes he too can create a legacy, like his great-grandfather.
However, it was not only Congo that made an impression, but neighboring Rwanda, which he also visited.
In Rwanda people have taken initiative, but with good political backup. It’s all about the people and their willingness to make change. For me the biggest thing was seeing how people have been able to forgive each other and move on. Based on what happened [the 1994 genocide] and knowing that your neighbor did these things to your family and you still live next door to them, fully knowing what they did. But, they have moved past that and are not seeking revenge. A lot of that has a lot to do with the leadership and the messages that it’s good to forgive each other, so people are managing to do this, which is really helping them being able to move forward. There is a sense of purpose and unity. In another 20 years we will be amazed at what they will have accomplished. When you travel you can access things and there’s a sense of a functioning government with systems in place.
Some of the readers of this story might be surprised that a Congolese man is speaking so highly of Rwanda given the political atmosphere between the two countries. But, I give credits where they're due".
This trip gave Graciano an opportunity to consider his pathway from the teen to the man in his adopted home of Aotearoa and the opportunities this has given him.
My personal growth would not have been the same. Here I was given the ability to learn – particularly outside of school, where I was able to be around the right people at the right time who were able to guide and mentor me. Mixit has been an important part of that. It helped me become a better husband and a good father, but also a good employee and now a good businessman. Mixit has absolutely contributed to who I am today as a human being and a man. If I had remained in Africa I don’t think I would have changed in the same way. The opportunities I have had here include the ability to learn good life skills. Its emotional for me when I look at my peers and see a big gap between us. A lot of what I am today is my personality, but 50% is about being around the right people and I was fortunate to be around the team at Mixit and that helped me learn all the small things you need in life. You don’t notice at the time what those skills are until you need them. Now that I’ve moved on to become a family man and business owner, that’s when I have started really noticing what I gained.
I feel it’s all in the leadership – young people need to be around great leadership. If they aren’t they can be adrift. I’m not in any way more special than others, but I get a lot of feedback from people in the community who didn’t get a chance to go to Mixit and now as grown-ups they come to me and say:
“We see that those in our family that went through Mixit are now outgoing, very social, they know what they are doing, they understand this culture and are doing well. Those family members are far ahead in life than others in our family who did not go to Mixit”.
So, Mixit has made big differences to many people. They may not be making movies in Hollywood, but they have gained important social skills and tools that help them move forward into their new communities.
It would be really nice to live between NZ and Africa, but it would hard to move between the two places, so Africa will be my holiday place and maybe one day I can realise my passion about going back to my roots and contributing.
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