Photo Exhibition by Kagonyera Busingye
What makes a pearl so precious?
Precious Pearls are a rare find in Nature. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, is a rare find among the 50 plus countries found on the continent. Pearls are the only gems that are formed and located within a living creature. Uganda is that Gem found in the living creature called Africa.
Uganda is like an exceptional natural pearl created by Nature with no need for polishing or cutting by man. Uganda is, as has been said, “Gifted by Nature.”
Uganda boasts of stunning landscapes, crystal clear lakes, snow-capped mountains, tropical rain forests, semi-arid savannah, primates, birds and much more.
Ugandan citizen and gifted photographer Kagonyera Busingye was kind enough to share some of his finest pictures of the Pearl of Africa.
Follow Kagonyera on Twitter and Instagram, @buskago
Spring is about how everything literally comes to life in Spring; there’s more energy, more colour, and the glow on everything is just amazing. Fashion is bold and colourful, free and beautiful. Makeup is dewy and vibrant, while the air feels alive as the first shoots of life come forth.
AN OPTICAL ILLUSION
By Renée Seckel
Despite a one week delay, spring is finally here and we’re ever so excited! Here to remind the world of the beauty of spring is our cover feature, Renée Seckel, a professional make-up artist who specialises in optical illusions but also does regular fashion and bridal makeup.
Anyone who has ever met Renée will tell you just what an amazing and talented artist she is, beautiful both inside and out. She is a passionate, driven, creative and goal-oriented person with the energy of a 16 year old. She is a mother and a wife, and family means everything to her. When she’s not doing makeup, Renee loves singing at her church and she absolutely loves cooking and baking too.
To say that Renée nailed her “Hello Spring” exhibition is a complete understatement.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind “Hello Spring”.
The inspiration behind “Hello Spring” is about how everything literally comes to life in Spring; there’s more energy, more colour, and the glow on everything is just amazing. Fashion is bold and colourful, free and beautiful. Makeup is dewy and vibrant, while the air feels alive as the first shoots of life come forth.
What fascinates you about this line of work?
I absolutely love creativity and thinking out of the box when I create different makeup looks, especially optical illusion work and special effects.
Which two season makeup trends interest you the most?
I love the lower-liner trend and the red smoky eye.
How do you stay abreast with the latest beauty trends?
I keep learning. We never stop learning, no matter how old you are. I make sure I go onto social media and follow other makeup artists and allow myself to draw from them too.
“…everything literally comes to life in Spring; there’s more energy, more colour, and the glow on everything is just amazing.”
Should we be on the lookout for beauty trends from you?
Most definitely! I recently launched my ‘Lashes by Renée Seckel’, so I’m excited to grow my brand.
Do you have any advice for upcoming makeup artists?
Never allow the negative opinions of people to shift your focus, keep your eye on the goal and allow that negativity to grow you. People’s opinions will always be their opinions and they are entitled to them and you cannot change that, but don’t respond to their call of negativity or allow it to alter your walk… straighten your back and keep walking!
Interviewed by Bubbles Mlangeni
Struggles of an African University Student During the Covid-19 Pandemic
For African students in foreign universities, never has it been clearer that they were indeed in foreign lands.
It is no coincidence that systematic inequalities reared their ugly head when our tertiary institutions were put to the test. For less privileged institutions, the Covid-19 pandemic confirmed that the institutions were on crutches and the pandemic basically took those crutches away. They were left with no leg to stand on. For various African students scattered all over the world, life touched them differently. Some encountered nuisances at close proximity with some people protesting a virus. In the same world where others could do this, some were begging to return to contact learning where online learning systems were nonexistent.
The elitism in tertiary education became clearer when universities that were historically privileged/ formally white institutions managed to transition easily from hybrid learning to online learning. This was a result of years of more allocation of resources being directed towards financing more privileged race groups. This is not an incident of history in the South African context, which means that at any given point pre-pandemic, students at historically white institutions had more resources.
When it became clear that students were not going to be having any contact lectures, the more privileged universities managed to loan laptops to students who did not have access to them. For countries that had more money to spare, data was provided for students to enable them to continue with online learning. This model of assisting the student assumed that if the student did not have a gadget for online learning, once they had it, they would be in a place with good network and electricity to power those gadgets. It assumed that a student had a smart phone to be able to use the free data that they received.
For African students in foreign universities, never has it been clearer that they were indeed in foreign lands. In cases where aid was available to them, for example, data allocation, for those who had returned to their home countries, such amenities were no longer available to them. For some students who are doing post-graduate studies, more time at home meant that they managed to think about what they could do with their degrees. It was a time to work on the hobbies that they took for granted that presented financial gain. This was particularly useful in fields like content creation where experience gained from practicing one’s craft is essential. Understand that while African students go to foreign universities for better employment prospects, legislation in those places is set up in a way that jobs prioritise locals. One has to be the best of the best to justify being chosen over a local. This pandemic frustrated students in their path of achieving greatness as many on-campus opportunities were paused, for example, societies that could have been valid work experience for their résumés.
In the haste to move out of university residences where many assumed that they were just leaving for two weeks and returning, many left their academic resources. Learning became difficult when they could not access these resources. Some had to rely on online library resources which had a time limit and some did not have access to online library resources at all.
For historically privileged universities where the poorest student would be in close proximity to wealth, they returned home to be reminded of all that they did not have. Back at the university, the access gap could be bridged through the use of on-site resources. However, when they returned home, the future was bleak once again. “No student will be left behind”, it was claimed. The truth is that despite all these efforts to equalise students, it was not easy.
For countries with less to no money at all, learning stopped indefinitely. For countries like Zimbabwe where the rural areas are places where there is no internet connection whatsoever and even where there is access to the internet, one would need to sell an organ to buy data. The online learning model itself being something that was created mid-pandemic, still a work in progress. No one was prepared for it; not the students who had to absorb the information, nor the lecturers who had to learn to teach using online resources. This is a time where tertiary institutions learnt that they were ill equipped for a pandemic. Who can blame them, considering they are located in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs), where a vast majority of the population is living on less than a dollar a day? The situation was hopeless and all they could do was fold their arms and hope that people live through the pandemic to tell the tale.
“Even if it was baking banana bread for 100 days and having a sudden interest in colouring books – if you found something to do with yourself, that was a win.”
Amidst all this stress and confusion as to when the academic calendar would start and end, a lot of people’s mental health was on a downward spiral. The acknowledgement of their mental state and what they are feeling was dependent on their surrounding environments being conducive for them to express their feelings. Amidst financial stresses and the sense of uncertainty that came with not knowing what the future held, while faced with death and Zoom funerals amongst other tragedies, a lot of people felt as if their lives were falling apart. It took awareness to acknowledge how and what they were feeling. For some universities, mental health support was accessible through dialing in to 24-hour hotlines. While this was good in maintaining the functionality of the system virtually, it is sad to note that this wasn’t something that most institutions could provide.
What is the future of prioritising mental health in our institutions? Is mental health treated as urgently as other sicknesses that people can see like a bruise? It might look like institutions are failing students in this regard, but the fact on the ground is that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the subject of mental health itself. There is a lack of understanding around why taking care of one’s mind is important.
It was not all doom though, many people had time to broaden their horizons in terms of reconnecting with old hobbies and starting new ones. Even if it was baking banana bread for 100 days and having a sudden interest in coloring books – if you found something to do with yourself, that was a win. Even if all you did was manage to get up, take a shower and look out the window, that is still fine. You do not have to change the world every day.
In this phase of our lives where nothing is in our hands, we learnt that tomorrow was not promised. We slowed down – and it might have come at a large financial and emotional cost, but we were lucky to survive it all.
Women in STEM
I think that it’s important for parents to discuss career choices with their kids, to advise them based on their own experience and guide them as much as they can.
Marie-Ange Akaga Assonouet
Gabon, a central African country, is rich in natural resources. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, it borders Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo. It is sparsely populated, with a population of 2 million as of 2017 and forests covering 85% of its territory. It is in this small country where a smart and gifted young lady was born and named Marie-Ange, which is translated to Mary-Angel. Serene, diplomatic, astute and wise, are just a few words to describe our ‘Women in STEM’ September feature. We caught up with her and got to find out more about her education and career choices.
You have a very interesting job at a very prestigious financial institution. Can you tell us what your job entails?
I am currently working in a sub-regional banking institution as “chef de service” (Head of Service) of the Communication Unit in Yahoundé, Cameroon. I organise and execute the institution’s external and internal communication for our branches which are in a number of countries across Central Africa.
How did you manage to secure such a high profile job?
First of all, I am a Christian and I feel blessed to work where I work. I followed a multi-phase entrance process (application, written and oral tests, and then interview) and was successful. I then did a 10-month training programme in between headquarters based in Cameroon and Central African countries. I got the job at the end of the training phase. It was quite an adventure and I really enjoyed the experience!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I must admit that I like working in the banking sector and particularly for an African institution, as it is a key sector for our countries’ development. I also like the fact that my work gives me the opportunity to represent the institution and inform the public about the work that we do. I appreciate the community aspect of the company. It implies taking into account the environment, habits and realities of each Member-State and it gives me a global perspective.
Finally, I’ve learned more about economics, monetary policies, finance and many more subjects related to the banking sector and I’ve found it really interesting.
Before you moved to Cameroon, you were working in Gabon. Can you tell us more about your job there and what it entailed?
I was working in the communication department of an agency in charge of coordinating the execution of Publics Work’s projects on behalf of the government. At that time, my country was engaged in many major infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, dams, stadiums and so much more). The agency was in charge of supervising those projects for the Ministry working with contractors, “bureaux d’études techniques” (Technical Design Office) and other stakeholders.
The Communication team was in charge of presenting our projects and their benefits to the public from beginning to end, as well as the benefits and perspectives for the country. I was working on external communication which included production of documentation (presentations, press releases and advertorials), liaising with the media and organising events.
What is life like in Gabon and what are the differences between living in Gabon and living in Cameroon? Which country do you prefer living and working in?
Well, I was born and raised in Gabon. I have my entire family and friends there. I can say that life there is what I have always known. I have my favourite landmarks there and therefore I like it a lot! Consequently, it was particularly nice to go back home and work in my country after my studies. I liked my job mainly because it allowed me to get involved in projects pertaining to the development of Gabon.
Working in Cameroon is undeniably very different. I had to discover and learn a lot of things about the country, as well as learn about Cameroonians’ ways of living. I have been living here for a couple of years now and I have found my marks. Working in a regional institution has also allowed me to see the bigger picture, to think from a community of many states’ perspectives and to adapt my work in accordance. I like it and I like my job.
Of course I will always prefer working close to my family and friends, but working in Cameroon has helped me grow as a person and as a professional.
You completed both your Undergraduate and Postgraduate education at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Can you tell us more about your tertiary academic journey?
I got my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and then a Postgraduate Diploma in Management specialising in Marketing and Communication from UCT. Prior to joining UCT, I studied English. It was compulsory as French is my first language and I did my primary and secondary studies in that language. After my English studies, I passed the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam, one of UCT’s requirements for French-speaking applicants.
You mentioned that your parents convinced you that if you wanted to have a good job and make it in life, you must study Computer Science because I.T was the next big thing. Were you personally keen on studying Computer Science or you had another programme that you were passionate about which you would have rather done?
I did not really want to major in Computer Science. I did not study that subject in high school, therefore I did not know what to expect. I have always liked science so I wanted to study something in line with Biology or Chemistry. However, when deciding on my major, my parents advised me to choose a promising field like computer science. I.T was the ‘it’ thing in my country at that time and I have always been adventurous and eager to discover new things; so I applied for a BSc in computer science like my parents wanted, rather than Biology or Chemistry.
What modules did you focus on for your undergrad degree in Computer Science?
You’re taking me way back (laughs). I studied programming in Java, C++, MySQL, and I also did the following modules; Database Management, Operating Systems, Networking, Problem Solving, Algorithms (Brute force, Divide & Conquer, etc.). I also did Programming in different environments (Microsoft and Linux). Those are the ones that I remember (laughs).
Computer science can be a very difficult and stressful programme. What challenges did you face during your studies? What encouraged you to keep on pushing till the end?
My biggest challenge was the fact that I had not studied computer science in high school but it was my major. Therefore I had a heavy programme meant for students who already had good knowledge of the subject. This meant that I had to spend twice as much time learning the basics and trying to understand the concepts, but mainly to practice, practice, practice! To improve in coding, you have to program day and night. That’s the only way to learn and to master the technique. I remember now how I felt at that time; it was like I was forever studying and practicing and doing nothing else.
I told myself that I would not quit so I worked hard and battled until I graduated. Actually, once I got my degree I was so glad and so chuffed that I made it (laughs).
Being a Francophone national, did you face any language barriers during your studies at UCT and if yes, how did you overcome them?
I definitely faced language barriers while at UCT. My biggest challenge was the fact that I had to learn the language in about 6 months and be fluent enough to comprehend tertiary level English. At the beginning I was struggling to understand entire lectures. I couldn’t understand everything so I had to read notes and books to fill in the blanks. Of course at that time my dictionary was my best friend. Fortunately, with time, my English improved. Like with many things, practice makes perfect!
Why did you choose to shift your focus from technology to communications for your postgrad qualification?
I graduated but I didn’t wish to work in this field my entire life. I found that programming was “machine orientated” so I didn’t see myself being a programmer. I felt like I wanted to interact with people more than with my computer. I needed a job where I could meet more people, talk more, travel more and organise events or activities. Working in my current field allows me to do all of that.
You then chose a career in communications; what is it that you enjoy the most in your field?
I am a very talkative person so I find myself doing the right job which I absolutely enjoy. As I said previously I enjoy interacting with people, discussing and learning from that process. I like the aspect of informing audiences what comes with institutional communication. I enjoy learning about each sector of the company as communication requires transversal knowledge and acts as a relay of information. I also appreciate my current position which affords me the opportunities to get involved in institutional processes on a national or even regional level.
How has the knowledge and skills gained from your first degree been useful in your chosen career path?
During my programming years, I learnt the following; first of all, you must persevere – as a programmer you have to continuously work on coding, testing and problem solving. You have to keep trying and keep debugging until your program works. Secondly, you must think out of the box – you have to think out of the box to find solutions. Often, new ways of doing things come up with new concepts and that will help you to improve your solution. Finally, it is important to have a method of operation – you have to be organised and disciplined when programming.
You are as passionate about Career Guidance as we are. What advice would you give to parents who do not want their children to follow their dreams and do courses that they are passionate about, but would rather have their children doing courses of their choosing?
Firstly, I believe that parents want what’s best for their children. However, things have changed a lot. There are no longer certain study fields that guarantee a job at the end. Children can have a good job and a beautiful career in the field they embrace and they will be happier doing what they like. Therefore I think that it’s important for parents to discuss with their kids, to advise them based on their own experience and guide them as much as they can. But when children have decided what they want to do, it is important for parents to respect theirs choices.
You are a successful black woman at a prestigious institution in Africa. What advice would you give to young Africans who would like to get to where you are one day?
Well, that’s a tough one!
First of all, I still consider that I have so much to do and so many challenges to tackle so that advice will also be relevant to me. First of all, work hard because opportunity or luck cannot compensate hard work. Your hard work will definitely pay off. Secondly, be convinced but even better, be passionate about what you do. It will help you to stay focused during hard times. Thirdly, it is okay to fall – just don’t stay on the ground forever. Stand up and carry on. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself! Acknowledge your very little accomplishments; you deserve it.
I would also like to emphasise the potential of Africa. The current economic situation is not so good but we can change things. Let us not lose hope. I am a real Afro-optimistic. There are so many areas to explore here and the future belongs to our continent. We need to become leaders and also raise new generations of leaders who will want to work and unleash Africa’s potential.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
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