BLOOMINGTON — Most of what Americans know about Africa deals with tragedy and violence. Illinois Wesleyan University is trying to broaden that perspective through “Explore Africa @ IWU 2012.”

The annual series, formerly called African Culture Week, will focus on immigration and the refugee experience.

“We typically have fairly emaciated Africans in our minds when we think of the continent or violent struggles going on,” said Rebecca Gearhart, associate professor of anthropology. “We’re trying to provide a more multi-faceted aspect to the continent.”

Gearhart, chairwoman of the sociology and anthropology department said, “This year we’re focusing on the Africans among us,” many of whom are refugees who came under extreme duress.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the focus will be on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Members of the Congolese community in Bloomington-Normal will discuss their experiences living as refugees in the Twin Cities and the organization One Heart for Congo.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the focus shifts to Sudanese refugees, including the “Lost Boys” — an estimated 18,000 young boys who were orphaned or separated from their families during civil war and wound up in refugee camps, some for as long as a decade. Three “Lost Boys” who live and work in Chicago will be part of the presentation.

Gearhart said the strife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is ongoing, but the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is more hopeful.

“The Lost Boys themselves led the international campaign” that contributed to the eventual independence of the Republic South Sudan and now they are leading development efforts, she said.

“It’s really an amazing story. They never forgot the people left behind,” Gearhart said.

And although the Congolese conflict seems far away to most Americans, Gearhart said, much of the dispute deals with the mining of minerals used in cell phones, MP3 players and other devices used every day in the United States.


What: Explore Africa @ IWU 2012

When:  Tuesday-Sunday; all programs are free

Where: Illinois Wesleyan University

Public programs:  “Uncovering Truth about the DRC: Displacement at Home and Abroad,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Ames Library; “Lost and Found: Sudanese Refugees in the United States,” 4 p.m. Thursday, Ames; “African Drumming by Firelight,” 6 p.m. Thursday, Memorial Center Cabana, 104 E. University St.  (drums provided or bring your own);  “God Grew Tired of Us,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Ames, film followed by question-and-answer session with three “Lost Boys” from Chicago; “A Slice of Africa,” 6 p.m. Sunday, Hansen Student Center, 300 Beecher St., evening of African cuisine, music, dance, fashion and entertainment presented by the African Students Association.

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