This week's Brazen woman wears her heart on her sleeves as she gives back to children in need. There are so many people in need, how do we contribute to making life just a little easier and happier for others around us?
Bongie Muny is an Immigration Consultant by day who is passionate about her African roots and is contributing to changing the negative African narrative to a positive one. She shares the beauty that is the African continent and African success stories to inspire others. She is also passionate about children's education and is contributing through her nonprofit organization.
Read about her story and the impact she is making.
The Brazen Closet: What do you do?
Bongie: I’m the founder of Beauty of Africa, which is a nonprofit based in Vancouver but operating across the world. We connect Africans living abroad through sharing their success stories in our Online Magazine Beauty of Africa and in person at our Annual Black Tie Event in Calgary. As the name shows, we celebrate the beauty of Africa as a continent with amazing cultures and diversity. We highlight the positive side of Africa. While doing all of this, we also raise funds to put children living in the poorest villages across Africa through school.
The Brazen Closet: How was Beauty of Africa born?
Bongie: Beauty of Africa started as a blog and was just really a hobby because I love to write. I had so many ideas and experiences I wanted to express as an immigrant. I initially thought my experiences were peculiar to me but as I blogged about them, people started reaching out to me and identifying with them.
One of the experiences that really resonated with people was a feeling of not really belonging anywhere anymore. I had lived in Canada for over 7 years, and still felt like I was still trying to settle in and be part of Canada and at the same time whenever I go back to Zimbabwe, I felt like a foreigner that was a bit removed from the system and didn’t quite belong there either.
These were the conversations that were not happening and as I started getting feedback, I saw that I might actually be helping some people, because a lot of people were going through the same things.
The blog started transforming to not just sharing my experiences but sharing people's stories and connecting Africans living abroad. Beauty of Africa is for Africans living abroad to come together and share their different experiences and perspectives and encourage each other.
The Brazen Closet: How has this forum evolved?
Bongie: Beauty of Africa is now a charity that not only creates forums for conversation but also gives back to Children’s Education. I wanted a forum where people could connect in person not just online and I started thinking of what type of events would be best to start these conversations and create connections.
I didn’t want to organize an event where it was just people getting together for a party, I wanted people to connect in a more positive way and to show that it’s not just about us anymore. It is more about showing Africa in a positive light, showing our different cultures and different backgrounds.
Africa is a continent of 51 Countries but seems to be portrayed in only one negative light and this is to contribute to changing that narrative and showcasing how beautiful and amazing the different countries and people are. The annual Black Tie Beauty of Africa Gala & Beauty Pageant was born.
It is a black-tie event where people can connect and showcase the diversity and beauty of Africa through art, fashion and food.
We included a Beauty Pageant portion which is also one of the ways we showcase the amazing talent and beauty represented by young African women representing their different individual countries. The pageant participants not only create their own outfits inspired by their culture but also share their talents and causes they are passionate about to inspire more meaningful conversation.
The Brazen Closet: What impact has the Beauty of Africa Charity made?
Bongie: I am very excited for the charity portion of Beauty of Africa. I just returned from our 1st charity trip to Zimbabwe. This came about when last year, I visited my Grandmother in her village and I came across these 3 children, their clothes torn and they were barefoot.
Their dad came to my Grandmother for help, so he could pay for his kids’ school fees. To my surprise and sadness, all he needed was $30, $10 per child for a school term. I thought, that is lunch money for me and so many people in Canada and I was just so moved to help them. I have been paying for those 3 kids’ education and other necessities since then.
When I came back to Canada, I started thinking of what I could do to help more children. If $10 could make a world of difference in a child’s life, be the difference between them getting an education or not and help reduce the pressure their parents were facing, then I definitely had to do something about it.
I started reaching out to my friends, eventually it evolved to providing school supplies to the kids. So Beauty of Africa in collaboration with Red Soil, also a non-profit based out of Vancouver, British Columbia went on our first charity trip to deliver the school supplies that were donated. We distributed about one thousand pencils, textbooks, notebooks and rulers to three different schools in Zimbabwe. It was a very successful trip and I can definitely say this is just the beginning because we hope and plan to do more.
The children need more than school supplies. Some of them were barefoot and it was a bit awkward giving a kid without shoes a pencil. Also, in one of the schools we visited, there were 71 students. Of those 71, only 1 had paid his school fees. The fees at this school is $20 per term, and the parents of the one child who paid could only afford $15.
So, it is my hope that through the upcoming gala we raise enough funds to be able to achieve these new goals.
The Brazen Closet: How do the schools get funded if the kids can’t even afford to pay school fees?
Bongie: Most of the schools are funded by the Government, but the funds only go to pay teachers' salaries. The school fees are supposed to pay for the development of school infrastructure and provision of supplies. A lot of the schools have run down and uncompleted buildings or make-shift temporary structures because of the inability of the parents to pay their fees.
The Brazen Closet: I’m sure none of this has been easy, what motivates you to keep going?
Bongie: I would say the impact we are making in the lives of the children is definitely number one. Seeing the smiles on their faces and the potential impact this will have on their future.
It may not seem like much but if this is making a difference in one person’s life then I have succeeded. I’m more motivated to raise more funds to be able to go back and help finish up their school buildings and provide more of the necessities the kids need for their education.
The Brazen Closet: Looking back, what do you know now, you wish you knew when you started and what advice would you give someone starting something new?
Bongie: I have learnt a lot in this process. I think the main one is that, when things started off I was scared that I would fail. That fear kept me from knocking on some doors and asking for help because I wasn’t sure what people would say. I wasted a lot of time because of that. When you don’t believe in yourself, you waste a lot of time.
So I would encourage anyone who is trying to start something to really believe that they can do it, whether or not they have the support. Lots of people will say no and that’s okay, you don’t need everyone on board for your dream to be successful.
Instead of trying to convince people of what you want to do, use that energy to focus on the goal and your vision. So I always encourage people to focus on why they got started and ignore the background noise.
The Brazen Closet: What should we expect at the upcoming Beauty of Africa Gala?
Bongie: The Beauty of Africa Gala is on the 10th of June 2017, at Festival Hall in Inglewood, Calgary. I would say expect a very positive and uplifting atmosphere.
Expect a night of networking and meeting amazing people, Africans and non-Africans alike, who are making impacts in their various industries. Expect to be immersed in the beauty of different African cultures. We will be showcasing African art, fashion and food.
There will also be various vendors showcasing their African inspired pieces. We would also love people to come dressed up in their most beautiful red carpet worthy outfits and cheer on the pageant participants. They are taking time out to represent their countries. For them, it is almost a whole year of preparation.
They have to work on their speeches, their outfits which they pretty much make from scratch. Their outfits must include the country and culture they are representing and this takes a lot of hard work and definitely time consuming.
The Brazen Closet: When is your next charity trip, and what do you hope to accomplish through the gala, to make that happen?
Bongie: We hope to make the charity trip annually in the 1st week of May and our target for next year is to raise $10,000.00. We hope to be able to raise the bulk of that from the gala.
We chose that time period because that is the start of the school term and we would like to be there in time to pay the school fees of the children that cannot afford it. So they can start the school term without being sent home and their families are relieved from that pressure.
The Brazen Closet: Is there anything more you would like to add?
Bongie: I just want to keep encouraging Africans not to see each other as competition but to work together. A lot of people are looking up to us, a lot of us have families still back home who wish to live abroad.
As an immigrant it is easy to get into survival mode in a new place. But once we are able, we should not take our being here for granted without giving back. The beauty of Africa truly comes from ensuring we lift people up.
I hope you have been inspired to not only give back if you are in a position to do so but also chase your dreams. Start where you are, you are enough. As always, wear confidence on your sleeves!
Go to Event Brite for tickets to the Annual Black Tie Gala
Visit the website: BeautyofAfrica.ca
Follow Beauty of Africa:
On Instagram @beautyofafrica
On Facebook @beautyofafrica