EYC, who ?

It was with great curiosity that I read an article about EYC on Huff Post Canada yesterday. At first, I thought it was the EYC I know, Eritrean Youth for Change – dedicated group, voice of the voiceless

It was with great curiosity that I read an article about EYC on Huff Post Canada yesterday. At first, I thought it was the EYC I know, Eritrean Youth for Change – dedicated group, voice of the voiceless in Eritrea. I admit that I had minor modus-operandi disagreements about some activities, but I know for fact those in the organization spend their time, energy and their own money, and the underrated family time unreservedly to the cause of the freedom of the Eritrean youth. They have been amongst the loudest voices and the ardent defenders of the rights of Eritrean youth in general and refugees in particular. They have been constant voice to remind the rest of the world about the cruel human trafficking of Eritreans that is taking place even today along the frontiers of Egypt and Israel. I know this because, many members of EYC are friends and colleagues; and that’s why I was excited to read about EYC on Huff Post.

EYC, the Silent One

To my surprise, the article happened to be about different EYC with the same acronym – Eritrean Youth Collective. I was pleasantly surprised because I have been very active in the Eritrean Youth organizations in the North America for more than 5 years, but I have never heard of this organization before. So yes, I read the blog with much interest.

To my dismay the blog, raised more questions than it answered. Except at one tangential note where it states “we strive to promote civic engagement and leadership development” there is no mention of civics, human rights or politics – directly or indirectly. Now, while I do not believe all civic organizations should have a stand on all political or human rights issues, I reasonably expect that all organizations should have some modicum of appreciation and acknowledgement of the he platform that they and their ‘constituents’ stand.

Newcomers vs Refugees

When I read the blog, and later EYC’s website, one of the words that irritated me most was the word ‘newcomers’. My common sense tells me, an organization that refers refugees as ‘newcomers’ sets a good ground not to acknowledge why a person becomes a refugee. For many of us, being refugees was not a choice. There is inherent pain in it, mostly of persecution and detachment from the place we call home. While, it is not a batch of honor we proudly wear, it is a batch of shame that we slap on the on those who made us refugees. The word ‘newcomer’ tries to scot-free those perpetrators. It also sheds a serious doubt on how far this organization will be willing to go in help the ‘newcomers’.

I understand, not all migrations are results of persecution; yet, not all of them are economically motivated either. Eritrean refugees are results of serious persecutions. Show me a ‘newcomer’, and I will show you a political asylum seeker, or someone who was granted a political asylum. Here is one story of a ‘newcomers’ to Canada – as sad as it is, it is a typical Eritrean ‘newcomer’ story. How is possible then to avoid a very recent past of someone and deal with the rest of the person. The simple answer seems, because it is past. But we need to remember, as W Faulkner put it right “The Past is not dead and buried; in fact it is not even the Past” We continue live with its effects, with our bruises and wounds that our past gave us. One who does not acknowledge our past does not acknowledge our present situation.

When Silence is not Golden, Questions Hover

The natural question that follows, then, is why the blog was completely mute on the root cause of ‘new coming’ or being a refugee. Such complete omission is questionable, at best. When I searched the group’s website and other web recourses, I learned that it is not the bloggers choice. It seems a deliberate trendsetting or a methodical approach that this organization follows. Silence in the face of refugee crisis – yet building an organization around ‘newcomers.’ Silence in the face of injustice. That did not sit well with me, and I started to ask, why

I thought, I may be missing something, and thus I posted a request for more literature on twitter tagging the blogger @Getachews. No reply. When I went home, I could not let go the thought – this time getting more suspicious. I sent the blogger a private message plainly asking him, if he knows whether organization is related to YPFDJ. No answer. Then, I turned to Google, once again. This time, a little deeper.

What I found was very interesting.

1. Questionable Journalism

I found out that the blog on HuffPostCanada may be well written and structured, but it is a lazy journalism. Yes, I said it. If you think this is a serious accusation, read this.  It was posted a year ago as an interview with two different members of the organization. How two sets of people interviewed a year apart repeat each other verbatim is beyond me. I leave the judgment to the readers, but I question the professionalism of the journalist.

2. Questionable Association of the founders

I also found out that one of the founders – also an interviewee last year, is a member of Young PFDJ, at least in 2008. Read this, including the comment. It makes me suspect that this could be a Young PFDJ affiliate masquerading as neutral organization. How could one expect an organization founded by a member of Young PFJDJ to call PFDJ by its name, “a perpetrator of evil”, and remain a member. Impossible. I know better from my days in Sunday school, ‘one cannot serve two masters.’

It is with that mindset this ‘current interview’ should be read, because the reality is interview was done /prepared with a member of Young PFDJ a year ago. For those of you who do not know Young PFDJ, it is the youth chapter of the dictatorial single party in Eritrea, PFDJ.

3. Questionable / Hard to find Partner Organization

It is public information that the organization requested a fund of $45,995.82 from Equity and Human Rights Investment Program (check Application # 29) It appears that the request was denied at first, but then it seems that it was appealed. The organization has also secured $ 9,800 from an organization named Identify ‘n’ Impact Investment Program, and around 1K from another source. We will see how much of the amount was spent or will be spent on ‘newcomers’. I also look forward to hear from Eritrean ‘newcomers’ in the Toronto area.

What I found extra curious was though, in one of the papers to request fund, the organization states the Eritrean Canadian Community Association of Scarborough as a partner and point of access in requesting the above $45,995.82. My search about the association turned nothing, except for one Facebook page with zero members. I re-activated my long deactivated Facebook account just to ask about this. I asked an Eritrean Facebook group with around 12K members if they know of this organization. No one seems to know about it. One friend replied “I [live] and work in Scarborough and never heard of their existence” It appeared to me there may be some misrepresentation.

If it is deliberate, then I got nothing to say for now.  If it is inadvertent, however, it is natural to ask, which organization were they actually trying to refer. There are two major Eritrean community centers in the Toronto area, Eritrean Canadian Community Center, Toronto and Eritrean Canadian Association of Ontario.

From the Horse’s Mouth

I called both offices, and asked them if they cooperate / partner with EYC. The first office said, they did not partner with an organization by the name Eritrean Youth Collective. The second office, said, they do cooperate with youth groups, but not sure about this one, and advised me to ask the first one.

Then I called EYC itself. The phone rings but no one picks up. Finally I was able to find one person online who stated that she worked with EYC in the past, and insisted that there is in fact, a separate Eritrean Canadian Community Center of Scarborough, except that she does not have their number and address. “Google them” she suggested. I left it there. As the day winded up. The blogger replied to my earlier twitts, and we exchanged multiple twitts where EYC (@itsEYC were tagged. I posted yet another question on what their relationship with Eritrean Canadian Community Association of Scarborough is? The original blogger does not seem to know that there is such an entity – in his own words “no idea” EYC did not answer the question. EYC twitted, if I can email them. I thought about emailing them, but I do not need a personal answer. If they want they can answer to this posting

Why Eritrean ?”

Despite non existence of any evidence, I would even give them the benefit of doubt, and assume the association does exist. The question then becomes, what is it that this association does. How come many Eritrean Canadians in the Toronto area never heard of it, yet EYC chose it as partner in requesting funds of that proportion? Often times, is it because, as many ‘non-political’ organization say, they do not deal with Eritrean issues. Then, what is the purpose of labeling an organization ‘Eritrean’ if it has nothing to do with Eritrea or Eritreans? What is the point of associating oneself with Eritrea if you do not associate with the issues of Eritrea.

Do not get me wrong, tutoring is good, teaching art and leadership skills is fine, serving ones community is great, but those are not a unique demands of people of Eritrean origin. They could have been done as Canadian. Is it the name; naming a group as an ‘Eritrean’ nowadays is a hot non-profit brand to request funds? To those who think so, every now and then, we need to remind them that behind that name Eritrea, there are proud people – their name or their country’s name is not up for any kind solicitation. Remember, when you raise their name, deal with their issue, past present and future. Straight forward. I still have more questions. But I choose to leave it here, I just want to say, one cant be a independent and neutral to injustice simultaneously – the two are just mutually exclusive.

Last thoughts

Before I mailed this for post, I thought about why I should do this. I paused, and really thought about this.  It may embarrass some people, which is not my intention. It may anger others, that, too, is not my goal. Many more may not even care – that is not my goal – obviously I am writing this so people will notice. It may backfire on me too – I can’t think of how, people get very creative in putting together conspiracy theory. I could just sit by and ignore it, like many others who saw the post did. However, when I think about it again, I would be succumbing to the paralyzing-silence that I am faulting others.

The free ride on the good name of EYC, Eritrean Youth for Change is too much for me to be quite. The burden of being a refugee is too heavy to be quite when the perpetrator is not called by its name. The money requested in the name of ‘newcomers’ is a lot to ignore. So, I will speak up.

I will speak up because on the grand scheme of things, when good meaning people and their families sacrifice a great deal so others can break their silence, an organization that encourages silence stands on the way.

I agree and respect, that people can have ‘non-political’ stands, but let’s not equate that with silence in the face of injustice. This kind of “I am neutral” nonsense/silence is not non-political. It is political. The growth of such organization multiplies the silent ones. Encouraging such silence by an individual or organization is tantamount to a dereliction of one’s civic responsibility.  Silence in the face of injustice is enabling the perpetrator. Teaching people to be silent /‘non-political’ is bad, but the worst is, teaching the prosecuted to be silent while making fame and money off their back. That is bad beyond measure, disgusting and should be called as such.

Bereket H. Stephanos

I can be reached at asmareeno@yahoo.com
twitter @asmareeno

The Huff Post Canada Article: Youth Group: Young People Making Waves In Toronto


Review overview
  • demas April 20, 2013

    Dear Bereket, I admire your writing and your stand. I have never heard of this website and their interest, am sure there are many more like me, but you gave them a nice advert which they don’t deserve. Next time just please concentrate on the struggle against the big dog. hgdef will try to hide under every available organization (kab haymanotn poletican natsa mahber)

  • Zerai April 20, 2013

    these group could be other organization that can only benefit for their members, these organization need to be reported to the high court or to the metropolitan. They can not use the name of the people of Eritrea to benefit for their own needs,

  • PAPER TIGER April 20, 2013

    Maybe they figured if the Eritrean government can profit from Eritrean kidneys & slave labour, it would not hurt if they benefited from the name Eritrean.
    It maybe a big issue ,but people with CANCER have no time to worry about COMMON COLD.I am not sure everyday people give a *#*K .

  • Eritrean Youth Collective April 22, 2013

    Dear Bereket,

    The Eritrean Youth Collective has, from the very beginning, intentionally abstained to take a political stance regarding Eritrea. EYC is not pro- or anti- government. I don’t blame you if you can’t believe it! We work with and for Eritrean-CANADIAN youth to connect them to opportunities to help them thrive. These youth come from families with different political affiliations.

    We are a group that stands to promote social, cultural and educational opportunities for the children of Eritreans. The same Eritreans who are either so obsessed with or traumatized by political divisions that the very lives of their children are left hanging in the balance.

    If you wish to speak with any of the founding members, please feel free to contact us. Our youth founders have worked very hard to unify the fragments of what is left in our community after pseudo-journalists and pseudo-politicians have hacked and destroyed any infrastructure and/or trust that is left for the community to flourish.

    We care about young Eritreans in Toronto. There are ways to engage in activities for Eritrean refugees, YPFDJ activities, etc. We are well aware of all of them. Still, we do not promote any of these activities as we are focused on our target audience and providing opportunities for youth in the Eritrean diaspora to learn, grow and be leaders – in whatever way they choose. We are engaged in promoting youth to take a deeper interest in participating and understanding Canadian civics so they can nurture their leadership capacities and bring about positive change in Canada. You can see us as a “third space”. We understand that it is up to each individual to form and develop their political opinions on Eritrea. We also understand that this has been divisive to the very fabric of the Eritrean community. We are in a generative and rebuilding mode. We help youth find opportunities to be whatever they want to be. This is not a conversation about Eritrean politics at all.

    We choose to remain optimistic. To hope that Eritreans can work together to develop solutions to make our community thrive. We have found that the space we create is desperately needed. We have not allowed adults or deeply political individuals to sway our youth-development mandate. And we never will.

    Please email us if you have any further questions: eritreanyouth@gmail.com

    -EYC Team

  • Eritrean_Patiot April 24, 2013

    Dear Bereket!
    You are way too paranoid! Just because an Eritrean youth is a member of YPFDJ does not mean they are out to get you or that they cannot do things that is of social benefit to their community!