Friday 20 February 2009

Davis Mac-Iyalla visits asylum reception centre and Radio Centraal, Antwerp

I started my programme at noon today with Kathleen who is working on a project on interculturalisation within the LGBT federation. She drove us to the federal reception centre for asylum seekers in Sint Truiden. We were welcomed by Bart Hermans, initiator of the AHHA project, a project to customise counselling for LGBT Asylum seekers.

He took us round to have a look at the centre and to give us a broad explanation about how the daily life in the Centre is organised. He allowed access to view all the facilities at the centre and also allowed us to takes pictures of anything we saw there, except for the inhabitants of the centre themselves, according to the respect for their privacy.

At 3pm we were invited to an audience of about 20 staff members from the centre A few came from another centre to join the event, among them the two directors.

Bart gave a brief introduction about how the project started and the future targets, which include raising awareness about the presence of LGBT people in the reception centres and developing capacity to counsel them. They then plan to transfer the experience from this centre where they are trying out initiatives and going through a learning process to other centres as a training programme.

The audience was invited to hear my story. I told them about my family background, my faith as a Christian, the decision to come out as a gay Anglican, and all the impact it had on my life, and also about how it is to live as a refugee and to go through an asylum determination procedure. The audience was listening carefully and put forward very interesting questions, raising issues that were of relevance to the situation in their own centre.

The position of women, the role of religions, the discussion about identifying as a gay or being in the closet, we shared ideas and visions about the issues. I could feel that listening to my life story was a revealing experience for them and I can now hope it will help the centre to better understand LGBT people.

From Sint Truiden we had to travel to Antwerp where we were invited to the studios of Radio Centraal for the weekly queer radio program Pink Wave, which is broadcast every Thursday between 20.30 and 22.30. Radio Centraal is an alternative socially engaged local broadcasting initiative but the Pink Wave program is also streamed to their website, where you can listen to it. I will post the link to the programme as soon as it is out on the website. The interview gave an opportunity to tell my story once more and to raise issues concerning LGBT people in Nigeria. My faith as a Christian Anglican was a strange experience for the people interviewing me. They mostly know people turning their back on the church, but when I said we LGBT’s will not pack our bags and walk out from the church where we belong for the sake of some conservative hypocrites, I could feel that they were supporting my assertive attitude towards the church as an institution.

The details of the interview you will listen to when I post the link, so there’s no reason to write out details here. Antwerp Central railway station made a big impression on me - it is a real cathedral for trains and passengers. On our way to the radio station, we passed the tower of the cathedral and Europe’s first skyscraper called ‘boerentoren’ a 98m high art-deco tower. The story goes that the towers are in love and in the past they even wrote public love letters to each other, which they then rolled out from their tops so the public could enjoy their relationshop.

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