"Decolonizing the Mind": OSUN Fellows Explore Refugee Labor and Humanitarian Aid
The fellows–Kamoso Jean Bertrand, M. Niyonzima Chouchou, Adam Mohamed Bashar, and Mulki Mohamed Ali–are also interpreters and refugees living in Kakuma. The team received OSUN Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives Research Fellowships for 2021-2022, as part of the Hubs’ mission to reflect on the challenges refugees face and to support advocacy efforts and programs that serve them.
Collaborating with anthropologist and OSUN-supported Bard faculty member Laura Kunreuther, who studies the role of field interpreters in global bureaucracies like the UN, the fellows are both subjects of her research and researchers in their own right. OSUN supports the fellows’ efforts to make a fiction film based on their research, while an OSUN engaged research grant allows Kunreuther to follow their progress in making the film.
The fellows are also acquiring filmmaking skills from film advisor John Thomas, director of the refugee-led organization Youth Voices of Kakuma. All of these efforts contribute to Kunreuther’s research on the historical and cultural tensions between UN interpreters' invisible labor and the ideals of transparency and global citizenship that the UN bureaucracy espouses.
The fellows discussed the educational impact of their research, which looks specifically at the difficulty of navigating being both a refugee who receives care from international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and serving as an “incentive worker” who gets paid to interpret for such agencies. They critically reflected on the problems of interpretation work, noting that humanitarian agencies paying refugees for labor plays a part in impeding the process of decolonization. They also addressed the issue of trauma among interpreters, who must translate and repeat accounts of escape or violence that sometimes resemble their own stories.
As CEDE defines it on its site, “Decoloniality is a way of understanding power in the contemporary world through its connections to historic and ongoing forms of colonialism and imperialism. Decolonial thinkers and activists examine the historical linkages behind the values, beliefs, and forms of violence that produce and sustain present-day systems of oppression and control, such as racism, sexism and patriarchy.”
In the group’s talk, Kamoso Jean Bertrand brought up the idea of the "colonization of the mind" that results from incentive work with humanitarian aid organizations, which he said ultimately devalues the labor of interpreting and creates deep relations of dependence between interpreters and INGOs.
In a simultaneous on-screen chat, one participant responded by writing, "This issue of incentive work is huge and never challenged by INGOs."
The research the fellows are conducting and the film project they are developing are consistent with the Hubs’ mandate to assist refugees as they forge paths to independence. This work also reflects OSUN’s commitment to supporting higher education as a means of exploring the global inequalities related to forced displacement, racism, and the effects of colonization.
Post Date: 12-20-2021