Spotlight on Black History Month – Volunteer Interview

The following interview is with Miura Lima, one of our fantastic volunteers based in Glasgow. Miura has been working with Waverley Care carrying out research exploring the experience of African communities in Scotland. We caught up with Miura to see what she had to say about Black History Month.

When you think about Black History Month, what does it mean to you?

It means a lot to me when I think about the African continent as a group of 54 countries with a shared history of being affected by slavery and the battle for decolonization. It also makes me think about different groups of people, knowledge, language, cultures, food, dressing and dance. There is so much to show, tell and share that it should not only be a ‘month’ for black history.

Is there a historical figure or event that inspires you? If so, why?

Yes, there are two historical figures that inspire me: Nelson Mandela and Patrice Lumumba.

Mandela, because of his role for South Africa independence, his life philosophy and intelligent way of thinking about the attitudes human beings could adopt towards resolving many issues affecting Africa and the entire world.

Lumumba, because he was a Pan-Africanist and had an important role in African Independence, inspiring other African Leaders to fight for their countries freedom. Lumumba’s impact and history can be seen in Sao Time and Principe, an island off the coast of Africa where I’m from. There is actually a school named Patricide Lumumba and, we celebrate each year on 12th of July as the date my country Sao Tome and Principe gained independence from Portuguese colonisation.

Communities of colour have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Since then, there has been significant global response from communities and activism to address its impact, which has often been overlooked in historical recording and storytelling.  Thinking about your knowledge or experience of HIV/AIDS in the UK and Waverley Care, can you tell us about your own history of community work and activism?

I am a passionate person, concerned with social justice and improving the lives of people stigmatised, marginalized and affected by health inequality in society. This is reflected in my personal history being filled with community work and volunteering for marginalised people. I have always been driven by fighting for equality, social justice and supporting others.

As a child, I always spent time with my cousins and peers talking about health and poverty related issues, so my story of community work started when I was a teenager, maybe when I was 15 years old. I was a member of an NGO called ‘Jovens Sem Fronetiras’ where I worked to support vulnerable groups in my community.

When I moved to Portugal in 2003 from Sao Tome and Principe, I got the opportunity to do volunteer work with vulnerable populations and go to university where I focussed my studies on minorities, dedicating my time to ‘Immigrants Health’, while working in partnership with ‘Jesuit Refugee Services’ carrying out community engagement research. This was very rewarding, however this was not the end of my interest in being an activist for vulnerable groups in society. After my undergraduate, I decided to do a Master’s degree in African Studies to build my knowledge and experience of working with people affected by health inequalities, so I could develop further and have exceptional skills. Following these experiences and activism, I decided to move to Scotland in 2012.

In Scotland, my history of community work and activism continued when took on a second Master’s, in Public Health at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). I am very proud of this as it was one of the best choices I have made in my life. Because of this experience, I went on to develop community engagement research, resulting in the creation of a model for working with Africans who are HIV positive living in Glasgow. A report was published because of my work in partnership with Waverley Care, highlighting the findings of this community research. I was also nominated for Herald Higher Education award in the category of community development contribution.

My main desire now is to continue with community work – I am currently working on an event raising awareness of the experience of African communities in Scotland, in partnership with GCU student association and Waverley Care for Black History Month 2018. I will always keep my focus on making a difference to the most powerless people in the community.

Frederick Douglas, American Social Reformer and Abolitionist, said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”. The struggle to tackle stigma around HIV in the UK has come a long way, do you think there is more work to do? If so, what would that look like?

Yes definitely there is always room to improve what has been done and to bring new ideas into practice. HIV stigma and discrimination in my opinion should be tackled not only in the health professionals setting but also within the general community and the African community. For example, one day I was talking to a peer on the street, who told me that Waverley Care goes too far with their awareness campaign for HIV testing when focussing on African communities. I think about this in a different way – Waverley Care has always adopted a very empathic and positive way to approach people in our communities.  Therefore, this conversation with my peer on the street highlighted that people still  need more education about HIV. For this reason, in my opinion stigma should be tackled not only within the health professionals setting but also within the African community, using approaches which could be of benefit to engaging with communities and reducing stigma/discrimination related to HIV.  I believe that work with African youth generation would be a key strategy to anticipate and reduce HIV affected and infected African people.

Is there something about Black History Month that you would like people to know? If so, can you tell us about it?

In Africa when we study history it includes our countries history, European history and the entire world’s history. When talking to my UK peers, I have found that they mainly know about their own countries history and/or American history. A lot of people think that Africa is a country and, not a continent comprised of 54 different countries with different cultural backgrounds. What I am trying to say is, that Black History Month should be more popular and well-known in the UK because it is crucial for people to know that the current European structure was mainly a result of slavery in Africa. I think it is important for the UK’s younger generations to know about this history. Having knowledge about black history could help UK peers to become  more open minded. They could also have a better understanding of diversity, helping reduce stigma and discrimination towards what they might see as different from their society.

Can you tell or show us something that represents Black History Month to you?

This is a difficult question! But for me it means people gathering to share culture, history and celebrate diversity. Below is a picture from community engagement work I was involved in, I have included it as I am a product of Black History.