Tag Archives: University of New Brunswick

From Sierra Leone to the world

Saa Andrew

Saa Andrew

He was forced out of his village in Africa because of diamond-fueled civil war. He moved to a crowded refugee camp in Gambia, where he slept on a tarp and survived on cornmeal. He, his father, step mother, and siblings made it to Canada thanks to the UN.

This is the story of Saa Andrew Gbongbor, a Sierra Leonean refugee, a Canadian citizen since July 1st, a student at STU, and a musician.

“It’s for fun, entertainment and also the message. … I’m dancing praises to the most high, praises for the people around me, the people singing and dancing.”

But it was a long journey to get to where he is today.

***

When Gbongbor was still a child in Sierra Leone, he saw members of his family murdered by rebels. Conditions were terrible and his family got a chance to leave; they had to take it.

“Everybody was terrified in the village. Even if you prepared your meal … (the rebels are) going to come and sit and say oh thank you lets come and eat together. And you have to smile. If you refuse, it’s bad for you.”

But his mother didn’t have the same chance to go. She was captured by the rebels; she’s is a nurse and they needed medical support. She managed to escape during a battle, but Gbongbor hasn’t seen her for 9 years. They’ve talked a few time, but phone service is unreliable where she’s living.

It was 1998 when Gbongbor arrived at the refugee camp. He was 15, and that’s where he got his inspiration to play music.

“When I was back in the refugee camp, what I listened to what a lot of reggae music and other music.

Every day I listen to this and get this radio inside me about life in the refugee camp. That was the only way I could survive day by day. That’s how I started liking music.”

So he started to play music. The Sierra Leonean national airline liked his stuff, and asked him to record a jingle. They loved it, and thought he could do something more. So they put him in a recording studio

“They say just go tell the people to send us the bill. I don’t know how they pay anything; I just go to studio ready to sing.”

***

Gbongbor calls himself a dance hall reggae and R&B musician. His music has distinct Afro-Caribbean roots, an easy flow, and an upbeat style that makes it hard not to dance.

Saa Andrew, performing for the SHOUT kickoff last year, at the Centre Communitaire du Saint Anne

Saa Andrew, performing for the SHOUT kickoff last year, at the Centre Communautaire Saint-Anne

“Even if you’re sad man, you want to dance.”

He’s played dozens of shows around Fredericton, and has travelled to Nova Scotia and Ottawa. He played a charity show at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa, and plays for charity as much as he can.

“I did a show to raise money for the homeless, for Samaria house at officer’s square, for the Fredericton Peace Coalition. … I’m an activist for peace.”

However, even when he’s playing music, Gbongbor says it can be difficult to forget what has happened in his past.

“I always think how my life was. And I think about the people I left behind. So I never stop thinking about where I come from.”

But he always wants to look forward.

“I want to do things that will impact the world in a positive way. I want to help my people back home. And not just my people, everywhere around that word that goes through trouble.”

He’s made quite an impact on people in Fredericton. Tyler Lombard is a friend of Gbongbor, and worked with him on his upcoming CD.

Lombard and Saa Andrew, performing at the SHOUT kickoff

Lombard and Saa Andrew, performing at the SHOUT kickoff

“I think he’s a great person. He’s one of the most genuine, nicest people that I know for sure. He really has compassion for everyone, and I just really couldn’t say enough about the guy.”

The two met years ago when they were both performing at Big Hearts for the Homeless, a fundraiser put on by the Fredericton Emergency shelter. Lombard has been impressed ever since.

“I remember this story, [Andrew] having to watch one of his fellow villagers being killed by rebels. I can’t imagine ever witnessing that and being able to be the same again. But he’s able to talk about it and he’s able to help people learn and educate people.”

***

In 2004, Gbongbor’s father got a phone call in the refugee camp. It was from a representative of the UN, who said the family would be moving to Fredericton. They had no idea where Fredericton was. They hadn’t even heard of Canada.

“I never thought of coming to Canada. The places I thought about were America, Germany, Russia. … But I was very excited when they said Canada is close to America, I knew it would be a good place,” Gbongbor said.

When his family arrived there was instant support. The multicultural association and people around town gave his family coats, a television and furniture. He told them he wanted to go to school, and they arranged an English language proficiency test. He passed (he already spoke English, Patwa, Kono and Krio), and was enrolled at STU in 2005.

The Multicultural Association also gave him his first gig, and then he did a concert for Canadian World Youth. His third concert was to raise money to help buy his mother a house. It’s finished now, and she’s living comfortably, thanks to her son.

Gbongbor’s hoping to release a CD/DVD combination soon, and he’s filming the music videos now.

Saa Andrew and Brendan Mittelholtz, one of his producers, editing their music video

Saa Andrew and Brendan Mittelholtz, one of his producers, editing their music video

The first video was a unique site in Fredericton. 8 dancers and three producers, Gbongbor and Lombard, were all over downtown. They moved from the Charlotte street arts center to the market and then to locations around the north side. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the filming, as Celtic dancers, in traditional African dress, moved to Afro-Caribbean beats.

“It was extremely fun.

The market was just packed; everybody wanted to see what was going on. … It was awesome.”

So Gbongbor will graduate soon, with a bachelor of arts in human rights and world history. Then he’ll release his CD/DVD bundle. Then, he hopes to tour the world.

“To play my music and promote a peaceful message. … To promote peace, to promote multiculturalism, to promote love and also forgiveness.

Should I be somebody very bad, to say okay I’m going to retaliate for what they’ve done to my people, to my friends all those things? No, I can’t. So my aim is to promote peace.”

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Global collaboration or disaster – Dyer

The end of society as we know it may not be far off, according to Gwynne Dyer.

The award winning journalist spoke about climate change at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton last night.

“This isn’t polar bears swimming for shore anymore,” he said.

Dyer said that at the current rate of climate change, average global temperature will rise by two to six-point-eight degrees by the end of the century.

“Two degrees is quite a lot, six-point-eight almost seven degrees would see the world at its hottest in 300 million years … a global catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions.”

Dyer gave his speech in a standing-room only lecture theater. It was the end of September, and the temperature was over thirty degrees.

“Perhaps the weather tonight relates to our topic,” said Mark Milner, who introduced Dyer.

Even Dyer was affected by the heat. He was not wearing his trademark leather jacket.

“What climate change does is shift rain patterns,” he said.

He said this change in rain patterns will cause the richest and largest areas for growing crops to dry out. This will result in massive starvation and a global fight for food.

“Many areas will get more rainfall but that’s not where we grow grain.”

Dyer said people will have to reduce their emissions by sixty to eighty percent in the next twenty years in order to stop a drastic temperature rise. However, he said the temperature will rise by nearly two percent no matter what humanity does.

He said the only way to reduce emissions by enough is to begin use non-fossil fuel methods for creating energy.

“The only technology we have available right now is nuclear … In a medium term solution it is almost certainly going to be adopted in a large scale,” he said.

Dyer added that there will have to be a massive move toward solar, wind, geo-thermal and hydro power.

He also said that there are things people can do locally to help stop climate change. He said up to twenty percent of global emissions can be reduced if people do things like take the bus or carpool, turn off their lights and television sets, and don’t leave their cars idling.

He added that more people should pressure politicians to start working at reducing emissions.

The best example of people beginning to pressure their government can be seen in Australia. The effects of a long lasting drought in the country have helped people call for policy changes.

“Two years ago Australia led the world in climate change denial, “ Dyer said.

“The drought was four years old then and is six years old now. Australians are afraid this isn’t a drought, its climate change and the rain might not come back.”

Dyer said the biggest obstacle in the path to cutting emissions is convincing industrialising nations like China and India to stop burning fossil fuels. This is an extremely costly idea and would be a big blow to the modernization of poor countries.

“50 percent of humanity is now having its industrial revolution,” he said.

“They don’t want to stop, they can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Dyer said it will be up to western nations to make poorer countries aware of the problems of burning fossil fuels. However, it won’t be easy.

“(We’ll say) you’ve gotta stop, you can’t grow your energy production like this. Tell you what, we’ll stay rich, you stay poor.”

Dyer said the only way to cut industrializing countries’ emissions is by paying for it. This will allow them to continue to modernize while funding their conversion to alternative sources of energy. He added that this suggestion will be extremely unpopular with voters in first-world nations.

“Canadians, Americans, Russians, have got to be willing to accept that equation or we all go under together.”

“We’ve passed some serious tests. We didn’t have a nuclear war. Congratulations by the way. But this is the final exam. It’s global cooperation or global disaster.”

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Diversity video to be released on campus


<!–[if supportFields]> SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>On November 15th, during the University of New Brunswick’s International Education Week, six multimedia students, will release a video about diversity around campus.

“It was an idea I had as a way to reach everyone,” said Zandra Kierstead, the person who thought up the video and the university’s Cross-Cultural Program Coordinator, “we’re looking to show people how diverse UNB is, how culture’s are different and how we can appreciate difference.”

The video, which is still officially untitled, is planned to be about fifteen minutes long and will primarily consist of interviews and conversations between the film students and students of different colours, nationalities, sexuality, languages and religions.

It was made in co-operation with the University’s Student Affairs and Services office

“If you believe in diversity and have any thoughts or perspectives on diversity, we want to hear what they are,” Kierstead said, “We want to hear what people have to say about diversity, we want people who watch it to say wow…the campus has a great diversity, it’s really a rich place to learn.”

Over the last three years, the amount of students going on exchanges from the University of New Brunswick has tripled, and there are students at the school from over eighty countries.

“We’re hearing things that people are experiencing, not just as Canadians here, but going to other places and having different cultural experiences,” said Kierstead.

“They sort of bring [their experiences in other countries] back… it’s a valuable experience you can share with people, and that’s what the video’s about,” added Billy Koruna, a fourth year student involved in filming the video.

Despite the amount of student exchanges, Kierstead believes many international students feel isolated.

“I had a hard time in the beginning finding people from my background,” aid Zaineb Survery, a first year business student and female representative for the Muslim Students association.

She believes the university is doing a great job of encouraging diversity, but that students and student groups need to do more.

“Lucky for me I’m ambitious and can find out who [the international students groups] are, but where can other students who are not as ambitious find out?” Survery said, “the university is giving quite a good amount of support to the students, it’s the student leaders themselves…why aren’t they taking a more active part in it?”

The students have been filming at events like a services at a local mosque and Worldwide Wednesdays. Worldwide Wednesdays is an event the university holds to raise global awareness by hosting speakers and gathering Canadian and international students together.

“It’s amazing where the video went…we’re talking about racism and we’re talking about issues that are important and should be addressed,” Koruna said.

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