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Toussaint Farini Buunda

Toussaint Farini Buunda

Salama Africa
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Co-Founder and Director of Salama Africa
Biography collected and written by Nellyson_Deo


The photos of are Toussain Farini Buunda and of a group of Salama Africa dancers (Photo credit: Salama Africa)

My name is Toussaint Farini Buunda. I am a Congolese by nationality. I was born in DRC, and that’s where I grew up. When I was in Congo, I finished my university education where I got a bachelor’s degree in public health. I came to Malawi in 2013. Then in 2014, I started going to school again at Regis University in the Dzaleka refugee camp. Regis is an American university based in Denver, Colorado.I got my diploma from that program. So after that I got an opportunity to start my degree with Southern New Hampshire University’s online program. Then I got another opportunity with the Mandela Washington fellowship. I went to America to do some different training with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

I am a co-founder of Salama Africa, an organization that empowers youths. This organization was created in 2014. I am among the people who started that organization for youths who were artists. The one (Nellyson) who is behind this recording was among the youths who participated in Salama. I am so happy to be with you today.

First of all, the idea came up when it was around midnight. I was with my young brother. We said what if we can create a platform to promote art in the Dzaleka refugee camp because no one was promoting art here. And then we just thought that it would be good if we can be unique in different activities that are happening in Dzaleka. That’s why we came up with the idea of creating Salama Africa.

Why Salama Africa? It is because we are coming from conflict backgrounds, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, precisely in the eastern part. So we said no this is not an option but we must, we have to uplift our youth as major key players. Our idea is to change the life of our youths and children. That’s one of the biggest aims that we have. Because with the life of a refugee and the way people are staying in the camp, children and youths do not have any opportunity. But if you give them a platform, it can help them to get something and then change their life.

This organization was co-created by my young brother Fred Farini, me, and Allan. Together and as one we created Salama Africa. We have some people who are helping, but they are not officially partners. By partners, it would mean that we have memorandums of understanding. As of now, we don’t have any memorandums of understanding with any other organization. We just work in the sense that we are helping each other. I can say that there are some great organizations that have started working together with us since we started, such as World Connect, GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit ), and UNHCR.

Salama Africa is not only, as most people see, for dance. First of all, it is an organization that empowers youths, and we have different departments. We have the music department whereby we have a recording studio that helps different youth in Dzaleka Refugee Camp who love music. We also have a dance department and calligraphy department. Our tailoring department empowers women. After we had started empowering children and youths, we thought that we can also start with women by giving them the knowledge of using their potential through teaching them tailoring skills. We now have over thirty women who are learning, but our idea is to reach two hundred. We have some other great ideas.

We started promoting our youths since 2015, when we went to participate in a national dance competition. It’s from that competition that our journey started. From Salama Africa, we now launched different other groups, like Forus Crew (Nellyson’s dance group) in the camp. Most of them came from Salama Africa. We have another dance group called the Dreamers, and they also came from Salama Africa. We also have some other independent dancers who came from Salama Africa. To us, it’s a success because if you can create yourself and other people coming from you, and then they do better, you feel the connection. The influence is invisible, but you can see the impact through what each and every group that is active on the ground is doing.

The bigger thing that I love about this is when we are invited to competitions because it means development. It helps those youth. For example, if we go to an event where we are invited and they say that they are going to pay us three hundred thousand Malawi Kwacha. At least those youths, they will have their part from that. It can help them to buy something like sneakers or trousers. The people who see us understand that we have talent. This talent can give us something that they understand. Before Salama, no refugee dancers knew any other stage out of the camp.

That was our big inspiration for Salama Africa. We want to change the mindset of the kids. When we go to Lilongwe or everywhere in Malawi, they know that it is something great. On my side, I really appreciate that.

Another one of our aims as Salama Africa is that we have decided to put art on the frontline, so that we can change the narrative of refugees. As long as we are just here and staying in the camp and not doing anything, nobody will know about refugees. Art can especially speak where people can’t otherwise speak. When we use art, nobody will arrest us because they know it is a talent. It may just be music, but at least the message has passed already.

I see Salama Africa in five to ten years as an international organization. Our aim is to see Salama Africa worldwide, especially in different refugee camps. Today we are here in Malawi helping refugees. We have our creative centers that we have built. We want to do the same in other camps in other countries.

The thing I can tell the audience of the book and website is that at first we have to start with the mindset that most of the refugees had before. They knew that Dzaleka refugee camp is a prison and they used to say that you can do nothing here. And from that, I just came up with a quote, the message I will share to finish this interview: “detaining my body behind fences while my mind remains free, that’s not a prison, but a meditation room.” We should take Dzaleka refugee camp not as a prison but as a meditation room. If we all take Dzaleka as a meditation room, we can just warm up and do big things.