Today we are pleased to talk to Nicole Ndongala, director of the Karibu organisation, about the important role that the association he leads in managing, developing and supporting humanitarian protection for immigrants at both the national and international levels.

Q.- Karibu is a term, by its meaning, which is totally related to the work you do in the organisation. How would you describe it?

A.- Karibu, Friends of the African People, is a humanitarian, non-profit, non-political, ideological or religious-inspired association. Karibu is a Swahili word that means welcome, and perfectly defines the spirit that marks the work of all those who work here. “Welcome” is something that is prioritized. It is hopeful to reach an unknown land, find yourself lost, have gone through boundary situations and find a friendly hand, a ray of light. The ideology and objectives of the Association are based on this and its motto “Friends of the African People” is confirmed and expanded daily. The affective traits of African people create ties and a great interest is born at the personal level of the challenges that arise. It is more than just an accompaniment.

Q.- At what point did you decide to undertake this project? Why?

A.- The organisation was created by a group of people linked to the African continent for various reasons that lived very closely the arrival of the first Africans in Madrid in the late 80. They witnessed the inability of this city to cope with this new and unknown phenomenon of immigration. This attitude led to serious situations of marginalization that led to the unfortunate events of 1990,when groups of sub-Saharan people settled in the lower part of the Plaza de España and in the ships of Méndez Álvaro because they lacked a place to live. From that moment on, Father Antonio Díaz de Freijo, as director, and a group of friends, mobilized to assume the task of helping those people who came with the post. On 14 January 1991, it was formed as an Association. It will be later, in 1995, when Karibu becomes a public utility entity.Karibu has become a benchmark, the place where immigrants from that great African continent are welcomed from only a few kilometers.

Q.- It is often difficult to know about the existence of such initiatives and to become aware. Why is it so important to provide support to migrants?

A.- It is absolutely necessary, urgent. I would say that, if we do not do so, we would be collaborating with the systematic violation of human rights. We live in a time that has led us to a lifestyle of well-being, of what to look for the easy, the superfluous, the consumerism, a “happiness” based on THE SELF. Pressure and the social environment have placed these objectives as priorities or desirable for anyone for decades. “This showcase,” is desired and attracts many people in their countries who see that they cannot achieve their objectives, or get out of difficult situations because of the lack of economic and social structures in countries whose corrupt governments do not allow them to escape poverty and have a future perspectiveand, as an exit, they are considering migration, going to look for a safer and better life. Finding yourself lost with truncated expectations is difficult to assume. Only by finding supports can steps be taken toward improvement and social integration.

Q.- What is the organisation’s day-to-day?

A.- Karibu is a center where workers and numerous volunteers work for the integration of these people, offering comprehensive humanitarian protection that covers all aspects of daily life, meeting the needs that arise. Karibu has become a great home for incoming immigrants and for some who have managed to establish themselves and are in a process of adaptation and integration. The Association’s day-to-day is a non-stop.They are attended from the basic needs of food to different housing aids and reception floors, accompanied in different processes (labor, training, legal, promotion, health, complaints). Our aim is to address, in the field of humanitarian aid and integration, the needs of the most unprotected immigrants and refugees and to demand recognition of the contribution of immigrants to the welfare of this society.And also support development activities in the countries of origin.

Q.- Promote training initiatives, workshops and activities What benefits do those who participate in them gain?

A.- This is an important aspect of Karibu, going beyond assistance activities. And for this reason we promote the training, promotion and insertion of people. In the case of women, the most disadvantaged part of the population, there is the Center for the Training and Promotion of Women and there are all kinds of courses, from learning Spanish, preparing for employment, relative monographic courses to health, empowerment and, above all, make them the protagonists of their own lives. We also have a Center for men in order to teach workshops. We also encourage external training activities for those who come with their studies and want to continue expanding their knowledge.
The greatest benefits are: training to integrate, personal growth and interpersonal ties. The Association’s technical staff and volunteer team carry out this task together, developing personalized itineraries for social integration.

Q.- The situation caused by the coronavirus has triggered new difficulties for immigrants settled in Spain. How have you dealt with these problems?

A.- Of course, the covid-19 has unleashed, as in any other group in a vulnerable situation, enormous difficulties. They are moments of uncertainty, where we are called to act in the immediacy of the gravity of dramatic situations that present themselves hitting with more force those who “are not endorsed by documentation” or social benefits. Since the beginning of Covid19 we have activated and intensified emergency aid for people without resources. The neediest families were attended to, we have accompanied with the service of “listening and telephone support” to specific families and individuals whose fragile economies have been attacked by the pandemic. Karibu’s door has been and is more open than ever.
This pandemic should serve to reflect on where our interests have led us without the resources of the planet. It is a crisis that is plaguing the entire world and it will be necessary to keep solidarity and cooperation in mind. It is worth noting gestures and disinterested help of arms and hands that have given their contributions and time to reach homes that needed food.

Q. – Also, due to the isolation, young people linked to the association created a podcast. What is the objective of this project?

A.- One of the most worrisome and lasting consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic is the educational gap. The enormous changes that the educational system will undergo in Spain and throughout the world. Of the 280 boys from the Karibu Association (120 from 5 to 11 years old and 160 from 12 to 18 years old), only 6% have an electronic device at home. We believe it is essential to ensure that these children have the necessary opportunities to continue their educational cycle. The objective of this project is that each of the 280 girls and boys of the Karibu Association can have a computer or a tablet and Internet access for the next course. At this time, with the coronavirus situation, boys and girls have spent the longest time at home without going to school or interacting with others of their age. This reality worries us, since they have been in this situation for many months.

Q.- How can you collaborate with the projects you carry out?

A.- You can collaborate, either as a volunteer in some of the activities offered, or with a financial contribution. If someone wishes, they can contact us: coordination@asociacionkaribu.org

Q.- The issue of migration is an aspect that generates debate and controversy due to the fear that the unknown can cause. What book would you recommend to raise awareness about this issue?

A.- Today there are many books and articles that provide different perspectives and positive elements and others that distort the issue of migration. The book that I recommend to raise awareness of this topic is: Africa on the move (internal and external migrations) by Professor Mbuyi Kabunda Badi. The main ideas developed in this book are:
– African migrations are more internal (inter-African) than external (extra-African).
– Emigrants made up of young people and executives benefit both countries of origin and welcoming countries. This is an opportunity for both Africa and Europe.
– African migrants do not come from poor countries and are not illiterate: they generally come from middle-income countries and have a secondary or university level of education / training.
– The brain drain negatively affects the continent, which loses professionals whose training has cost the public treasury.
– Migrations are a structural phenomenon for the future. It is not a crime, but a natural right to improve their living conditions.

Q.- What is the most positive thing that has contributed to you to be part of the organisation?

A.- I joined this great project as a worker since 2000. I started as an escort, interpreter, intercultural mediator, coordinator of the women’s training and promotion center and am currently director general since 2018.

This project changed my life. Because when you discover faces, lives, realities of inequality, that touch your feelings, when you open yourself to a look that goes beyond your own interests, you begin to discover situations that hit you as if you were living them in the first person. Then you start a path that makes you leave yourself and you open yourself to a project that you give everything to, but you get much more, your world really expands.

Karibu has given me meaning to my life as a Congolese-Spanish in Madrid and a way to channel my thanks for everything I received in the Association on my arrival in Madrid.