Friday, September 03, 2004

ALIFA'S RISING STAR

“It is a small world; isn’t it?” said Alifatou Djibril at the Light Square Campus of Adelaide Institute of TAFE where we met. “Although I study the Australian society and culture in school, way back in Africa, I didn’t know that one day I will be living in this great country (Australia); and enjoying the experience”.

Alifatou (popularly known as Alifa) was born in a little village of Bafilo (near Kara) in Togo, West Africa. She is an experienced world traveler and a keen sportswoman who has been in Australia since 1999. She was in action in the Women’s Shot Put event during the 2003 “Telstra A” series held at the Sydney Athletic Centre. And was one of the Star performers.

Inspired by a love of humanity and a love of challenge, Alifa has worked extremely hard to help the disadvantaged migrants in the emerging African communities in Australia. Her heart goes out to the “uneducated, the unemployed, and the poor women” who are trying to make a new life in Australia; but have found the daily struggle for survival really difficult to bear.

Thus, unlike their highly skilled, well educated, and career-minded counterparts who have enjoyed a lot of freedom and equality since their arrival in Australia, the uneducated women are in a world of their own; searching for a place in the new society. We now know very well that these disadvantaged women need a lot of help to cope with life in Diaspora. Simple things like shopping, using public transport, and interacting with people in the local community are beyond their level of competence because of the total lack of English language skills and their husband’s desire to restrict their freedom of movement, just to “protect” them.

Alifa talks candidly about the plight of the poor and the seriously disadvantaged in the emerging communities in Australia; and what people of goodwill should do to alleviate the problem of adaptation and re-settlement. But the wider community is yet to come to terms with the essential nature of the complicated factors at work in these communities.

Meanwhile, some of these unfortunate women are increasingly being insulated from the positive influences of mainstream values and beliefs. They are largely unemployed and seem to stay indoors most of the time. Consequently, they have no choice but to perform the traditional wifely duties as pre-ordained by the patriarchy: cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children and husband, out of the prying eyes of the public. They neither work. Nor study. Nor participate actively in social activities outside the confines of their home environment; especially during the early years in Australia.

A woman in this situation is totally dependent on the husband who controls her every move, and he is well respected at home because of his position of power and influence. He is the superior partner in the equation, the “Alpha and Omega” so to speak, the sole bread-winner who knows what is right and wrong for the entire family. He controls the family budget, a role that gives him tremendous amount of power. And he is not complaining because he has found a good way of dealing with status anxiety which is the lot of most migrant men. Thus, when he speaks, the wife listens; and both appear to complement each other quite well.

But, come to think of it, “There is more to life than listening to a man all the days of your life”, said Alifa who has extended a warm hand of friendship to many of the poor and lonely women here in South Australia; helping them with the necessary information about their rights; and women’s health issues.

Alifa is a good facilitator and knows exactly what she wants in life. “I have to find my own way in life: working, studying, and making a living…I don’t depend on any man to tell me what to do”. Indeed, Alifa’s time has come!

Actually, it is not just a question of patriarchal conspiracy that is keeping some of the poor African women in this position, there are well entrenched socio-economic and psychological dimensions of the problem. And old values die-hard!

Yet, again, as Alifa would have us believe: “It is good to listen to one’s partner and take advice but sometimes you have to discover things for yourself”.

One thing is certain, though: Alifa’s work in the African community here is yielding some positive results. She is seen as the rising star in the emerging communities. And a fine young woman of influence.



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