EXCHANGE ON EQUAL TERMS, CULTURAL PARTICIPATION AND SELF-EMPOWERMENT
An interview with Charlotte Njikoufon about her community engagement, in particular with the programme “Kultüröffner: Museum”, for which she is active as a facilitator. By Julia Albrecht, transcribed by Rachel Etse (Weltkulturen Education)
Charlotte Njikoufon visited the Weltkulturen Museum as part of the cooperative project “Kultüröffner: Museum”, which is a collaboration between Frankfurt’s Office for Multicultural Affairs (AmkA), five museums in the city, and socially committed individuals or groups from various local communities. She accompanied a group of women on a multilingual tour through the exhibition “Worlds in Motion: Narrating Migration”.
Weltkulturen Museum: Can you give me a brief overview of your involvement with “Kultüröffner: Museum”?
Njikoufon: I’m a “Kultüröffnerin” – a “cultural opener”. I’ve been working with AmkA since 2001 as a facilitator on several projects. The way I see it, “Kultüröffner” gives the participants – in my case that’s only women – a great opportunity to discover something new. The way it is structured, not only do these excursions give them the chance to enjoy their spare time, they also learn a huge amount in the process. So this cooperation with AmkA and the museums contributes towards empowering the women in the groups I organise.
Weltkulturen Museum: What role do you play in the excursions to the museums?
Njikoufon: First of all I take care of many small details that make it possible for the women to visit the museum. For our visit to the Weltkulturen Museum, I organised extra interpreters so that all the women could follow the tour. There were women in the group who spoke Arabic, Somali, French and Farsi. My role during the tour was to translate into French.
Weltkulturen Museum: What did you and your group think of your visit to the current exhibition?
Njikoufon: We thought the exhibition was really good, and we were all delighted because we could really see ourselves reflected there. We started off in the rooms of the education department, where we were able to touch the objects on display. Each and every one of us was able to find some way of relating to the items. Everyone had something to say about an exhibit, and in some cases could even identify with it. Following this, the tour moved on to the exhibition itself on the two lower floors. That was really exciting for us too, because we discovered connections to religion, politics, history and music. The group found so many different things interesting. We were also really fascinated by various fabrics (wax prints and wax batik) on display. The history of the fabrics was very engrossing: for instance tracing the migration of the fabrics from Indonesia to Africa. Seeing the fabrics in a museum was a really special experience for some of us. One personal highlight for me was to find Paul Biya, who has been president of my home country Cameroon for the past 36 years, depicted on one of the bolts of cloth.
Weltkulturen Museum: So the group was happy that there were so many points of reference in the exhibition?
Njikoufon: Yes. For example there was a display case with verses from the Qur’an, which the Muslim women in the group spontaneously translated for the others. They also started reading them out loud. The images from various religions, such as Mami Wata, were particularly intriguing for us Christians in the group. Those of us from African countries looked at each other [laughs] because to us, Mami Wata denotes rather a spiritual being, a water spirit. In African countries Mami Wata is not always viewed positively. It might well be that her image is romanticised in other countries, but my experience is that in Africa she is seen as a very mystical and somewhat ambivalent figure.
Weltkulturen Museum: Ms. Njikoufon, “Kultüröffner” is not the only project you’re actively involved with. What other projects do you devote your time to?
Njikoufon: I work in a counselling centre as a psychosocial counsellor for women of African heritage. At FIM - Frauenrecht ist Menschenrecht e.V. (‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights’), women from four continents receive advice. Moreover, I am chair of the Kone association, which is a network supporting dialogue between groups–. It was via Kone, which means solidarity, that we organised the women’s visit to the Weltkulturen Museum. My work always concerns the empowerment of women, girls, young people and children in the diaspora or who have a migratory background; but particularly African women in the diaspora. Kone regularly stages antiracism workshops. We organise numerous projects on various themes and are also a member of DaMigra e.V., the umbrella organisation for migrant womens’ associations.
Weltkulturen Museum: Where does your strong sense of personal commitment come from?
Njikoufon: My father was a diplomat in the Cameroonian embassy in Bonn from 1977 to 1987, and that meant I saw involvement with the community being practised at home. As a student in Aachen I also did a lot of work as a cultural mediator. After that I returned to Africa and was active as a development worker in Togo. I am a totally socially committed person.
Weltkulturen Museum: So it is something that is intrinsic for you?
Njikoufon: It’s an integral part of who I am. I’m happy to share what I have. But women with migrant backgrounds have more to offer than just being facilitators. Their knowledge and skills can make a key contribution in the right places. But they also have to be remunerated appropriate to their qualifications. And if that happens, it balances out. It’s a pity when highly educated migrants, who have so much to offer, remain in the shadows, and only get brought forward when they’re useful. I’ve gotten to the stage, where I find that rather unfair. There’s so much to do here in society and every migrant, whether settled or not, can make a contribution and improve society. I have a big network here which means that I know what I’m talking about.
Weltkulturen Museum: “Kultüröffner: Museum” and Institutions such as the Weltkulturen Museum join forces to increase levels of participation. How important do you think these efforts are?
Njikoufon: Social participation can only happen if we work together. If people are to contribute more, a degree of give and take is necessary. I think it’s important that the migrants in my group discover German culture. And there’s a lot to discover. It draws them out of their isolation, out of their communities. At the same time it gives them a boost – the fact that they experience new things like an exhibition in a museum. Perhaps they didn’t have the opportunity to do that in their home countries, often because they were preoccupied with other tasks. More participation gives these women the chance to develop themselves while also discovering what fun is about. That is advantageous not only for them but for their entire family too. They can go on excursions with their children or discover new places and then talk about them with their families. That is a part of empowerment too. It is really important to bolster these women, so they can be role models for their children and help them take their place in society with confidence.
Charlotte Njikoufon studied business administration at FH Aachen as well as education and international development at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, from which she received a master’s degree in education. She has also qualified as a person-centred counsellor at the psychotherapy association GwG. She is currently working on a doctoral thesis in education.
Thanks to the “Kultüröffner: Museum” programme, museums in Frankfurt are being transformed into meeting places – for people with various native languages and everyone who wants to learn these as a second language. The project is sponsored by AmkA, Frankfurt’s Office for Multicultural Affairs: www.amka.de/kulturoeffner