Thursday, October 2, 2014

ETBP Interviews Karen Pong – Youth Peace Ambassador

Karen Pong is the founder of Youth against Human Trafficking in Europe (YAHTE) and co-founder of the Youth Peace Ambassadors (YPA) Network of the Council of Europe YPA project. Born in Cameroon, she was raised in Greece and has lived and worked in France since 2010. She currently calls the north-western Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine home.

Karen Pong – Another Peace Really Is Possible
Image courtesy of Karen Pong

Karen has traveled throughout the world to pursue her passion for human rights and peace education. Some of the nations she has visited are Bulgaria, China, Canada, Hungary, Norway, and Syria. Her first serious endeavor with regard to human rights activism came with the crisis in Darfur:

In 2008, I became very concerned by the crisis in Darfur. Together with some classmates, we started an awareness campaign on China’s dual role in this crisis. We organised a conference on campus as well as a peace march from AUP to the Peace Monument at Champs de Mars in Paris, and we were present to protest on Champs Elysées on the day the Olympic torch was carried by athletes on its way to Beijing for the competition. This was my first step towards active participation in civil society. It has grown and intensified with time.

The Youth Peace Ambassadors project promotes and supports the role of young people in peace-building activities that contribute to living together in dignity and dialogue through a network of specifically trained young people who strengthen the presence and promote the values of the Council of Europe in conflict-affected areas and communities. As an extension of YPA, Karen and others founded the YPA Network – an informal group of over seventy youth leaders from diverse backgrounds working for peace – during the first consolidation seminar of the YPA project held in Andorra.

YAHTE seeks to inspire and harness the energy of young men and women between the ages of 12 – 30. It was born as a result of Karen’s frustration with trying to work with existing NGOs to implement her thoughts, ideas, and enthusiasm for human rights and peace activism. She reached out to a few existing organizations by sending letters and e-mails and even visited their offices, but got little more than cursory responses. She launched YAHTE in April 2013 after a mentor from YPA suggested that the best way to deal with this situation was to start her own organization.

Karen’s long-term career goal is to join Interpol as a Criminal Intelligence Officer to combat human trafficking. Though a primary criterion for acceptance at Interpol is law enforcement experience, other factors such as relevant work experience and educational background are taken into consideration. Karen wants to challenge the requirement for law enforcement training and aspires to join the organization without it. She plans to continue acquiring hands-on experience in the field of human trafficking through YAHTE and believes that her engagement in human rights and peace education will provide her with skills and competencies that could be translated into the work of Interpol. She believes strongly in the role that youth can play in the prevention of human trafficking and would like to see this taken into consideration.

Karen was born in the English-speaking city of Bamenda in the bilingual (French and English) nation of Cameroon. She lived for some time in the cities of Yaounde, Buea, Tiko, and Douala before moving to Athens, Greece at the age of twelve. This is where she attended high school and one year in an American college before transferring to the American University of Paris for her BA. Though her family still lives in Athens, Karen felt compelled to make France her home base because of a personal romantic relationship and her studies at the American University of Paris (double Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and International Economics with a Minor in International Law).

Because English is her native language, Karen is able to work as an English language trainer to support herself financially. She began by offering English lessons to children (3-12 years old – at times with babysitting) and to students preparing to sit for TOEFL exams. After months of struggling to establish herself as a teacher of professional clients, she secured a position at My Connecting English, a company that specializes in language training for professionals in companies all over Paris. She now works with upper and middle management professionals in some of the biggest companies in Paris, and in France, such as L’Oreal, Publicis, Caisses des Depots, and Havas Life. The work is compatible with her personality and she finds it to be wonderfully enriching.

Karen has often been asked about the origin of her last name – Pong – which is of Asian origin. As far as she knows, her entire lineage is Cameroonian. Her grandfather, Thomas Pong, is from a village called Mmen in the Menchum Division, NW of Cameroon, and she supposes that “Pong” is also a Cameroonian name. She shared the following anecdote about it:

In 2007, I went to China as part of an international youth volunteering activity via an organization called “i-to-I” based in the UK – I discovered this idea during my study abroad at UCLA. I was to be cultural volunteer working at the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum for one month. When I arrived to the airport in Xi’an, the host who came to pick me up loitered around me for over 40 minutes, not thinking that I was Karen Pong. Once we were able to find each other, he explained to me that he was expecting an Asian girl. Oh, what a surprise!

For leisure, Karen likes to read when she can find the time. She enjoys going to parks – big ones like the Champs de Mars and the Luxembourg Garden – as well as small neighborhood and community parks. She loves that Paris has beautiful green outdoors spaces where she can sit and read a novel, eat a sandwich during her lunch break, and picnic with friends. She also likes evening hang-outs over wine and apéritifs or just laying down to soak up the sun on one of Paris’ random hot and sunny autumn or spring days.

Eiffel Tower viewed from the Champs de Mars
© Discover Paris!

She ranks the 7th arrondissement as her favorite part of Paris, largely because she studied at AUP, which is on avenue Bosquet in the 7th. She spent nearly 5 years in this area between Invalides and Bir-Hakeim and is still quite attached to it – she frequently visits the AUP campus to benefit from alumnus privileges:

Despite being in the center of Paris, the 7th is a very residential neighborhood that is always full of life.

The area where the university is based is very vibrant with a youthful vibe. There are busy shops and restaurants, bars/brasseries, boulangeries and charcuteries, AUP students running back and forth to lessons, babysitters picking up kids from school…

It is a short walk from many interesting sites like the Eiffel Tower. There is also the famous rue Cler with yummy restaurants like Tribeca.

When asked what advice she would give to “20-somethings” who want to move to France and build a life for themselves here, Karen had no shortage of counsel! She recommends the following:

- Planning is key! Prepare a plan in which you set short term and long term goals for your new life. Be realistic – do not set goals that you will not be able to achieve for reasons such as the language barrier. Prepare a contingency plan in case things do not go as originally conceived.

- If you do not speak French, make sure to take some lessons to gain basic knowledge of the language before moving. Make plans to take language courses once you move – either through schools/universities or associations.

- Familiarize yourself with French immigration laws and policies (online on a website called “Services Publics”). Upon arrival, locate your local Prefecture to regularize your stay. This is very important for non-EU citizens. Keep this in mind because there are strict deadlines to respect that if not respected could cost you your stay in the country.

- Reflect on your skills and competencies and think of how they could be assets when looking for a job. Check the possibilities of employment in France before moving.

France is a wonderful country rich in EVERYTHING – the culture, the people, the heritage, the landscape, the lifestyle! It is full of opportunities for young people who are eager and perseverant. There may be bumps along the way, but from my experience, they can be overcome.

You can succeed in realizing your dreams by moving to France with the right amount of motivation and enthusiasm combined with a dose of hard work, which can sometimes seem endless. It is always easier to enjoy your time here as a student. But any young person who comes prepared, at least at a minimum, has chances on their side to build the life they desire to live in France.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Celebrating Creole Cuisine

This year's Fête de la Gastronomie (Gastronomy Festival) will include three days of celebration of Creole cuisine.

L'Académie de l'Art Culinaire du Monde Créole (Culinary Art Academy of the Creole World) was created to promote Creole cuisine in France. Because this cuisine is considered part of French gastronomy, it is protected by UNESCO as part of the world's Intangible Cultural Heritage. Yet it has its own history and culinary traditions to promote and respect.

Banner for L'Académie de l'Art Culinaire du Monde Créole

One of the Academy's missions is to ensure a standard of quality in Creole cooking that inspires the confidence of the general public. It has created a charter, a log, and a label through which it intends to sensitize consumers to the presence of products in the marketplace that are certified Creole and that respect ancestral culinary traditions.

The Academy has participated in the Fête de la Gastronomie since the festival's inception in 2012. It is partnering with the, a start-up company that specializes in recruitment for the hospitality sector, to create online media buzz for Kréole en Fête (Celebrating Créole) - the Academy's contribution to the 2014 festivities. This initiative allows restaurants to enhance their visibility by vigorously promoting their most appetizing recipes during the festival. It will take place on September 26, 27, and 28.

Bouchons saucisses from La Charrette Créole chez Sylvain
© Discover Paris!

Georges Garnier*, alias Joby, is president of the Academy. interviewed him at Academy headquarters - 94, rue Vitruve, Paris 20e - as part of the promotion. Garnier presented the organization, what constitutes Créole food, and where it comes from. He explained that Créole cuisine is not limited to the French Antilles, but rather includes cuisine from the entire Caribbean as well as islands in the Indian Ocean.

Garnier also talked about some of the Academy's projects, including what's in store for the public during the Fête. Several Créole restaurants will take up the challenge of creating an entrée (first course), plat principal (main dish), and / or a dessert in conjunction with the theme "herbs and spices." The chef must use authentic Créole ingredients to honor and promote the local suppliers of these products as well as take special care regarding the ambiance of the restaurant and the presentation of the dish.

The winning menu will be published in the ACMC magazine, the first edition of which was published in February 2014. Click on the caption beneath the image of the cover below to see its contents.

Cover of ACMC Magazine - Premier edition (February 2014)

Fourteen restaurants in Paris and neighboring towns will participate in the Fête:

La Canne à Sucre
6 bis, rue Etex
Paris (75018)
01 42 26 51 28

La Charrette Créole chez Sylvain
15, rue Chaplain
Paris (75006)
01 43 26 03 10

Ilet Créole
14, rue Mercœur
Paris (75011)
01 71 70 64 66

Caffé Créole
62, boulevard Beaumarchais
Paris (75011)
01 55 28 50 76

Restaurant Le Payenké
8, rue Paul Henri Grauwin
Paris (75012)

Douceurs Métissees
148, avenue du Maine
Paris (75014)
06 31 19 50 11

Spécialités Antillaises Ménilmontant chez Max
14-16, rue boulevard de Belleville
Paris (75020)
01 43 58 31 30

La Créoline
5, Villa Léonard De Vinci
Épinay-sous-Sénart (91860)
06 19 05 94 77

La Bloggeuse du Rhum
116, rue Maurice Arnoux
Montrouge (92120)
07 50 40 24 18

Sandrine Cuisine Façon Créole
61/63, avenue du 14 Juillet
Bondy (93140)
06 13 05 34 72

Bwe & Manje
18, rue Jean-Jaurès
Bondy (93140)
06 27 76 61 49

DouDou Kreol
183, rue Paul Vaillant Couturier
Alfortville (94140)
01 56 20 33 38

Plézi Karayib
3, rue Henri Sellier
Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (94190)
01 83 76 03 60

Bette Kreyol
1, rue du Docteur Calmette
Limeil-Brévannes (94450)
07 78 32 22 92

Kréole en Fête culminates with a free event that is open to the general public on Sunday, September 28, in Paris. It will take place at the Salon Olympe de Gourges, 15, rue Merlin in the 11th arrondissement. Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM.

Find the Academy on Facebook here: l'Academie de l'Art Culinaire du Monde Créole

*Garnier is also the director of the annual Carnaval Tropical, which has been organized in Paris since 2001.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

20th Anniversary Celebration of UNESCO Slave Route Project

On 10 September 2014, UNESCO celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.

A full day of discussion, musical interludes, and commemoration took place at La Maison de l'UNESCO, 125 avenue de Suffren, in Paris' 7th arrondissement. Highlights included a roundtable at which UNESCO’s contribution to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) was discussed and the inauguration of the exhibition "Africans in India: from Slaves to Generals and Rulers."

Africans in India
© Discover Paris!

French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, author of the 2001 law that recognizes slavery as a crime against humanity, spoke at the closing event of the day:

The challenge today is to understand the globalization that divides people to better exploit. This globalization can be replaced by universality, one in which we meet the Other, so that the Other is not seen as a good to be sold.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira
Screenshot from YouTube video

The United States Permanent Delegation to UNESCO sponsored the evening reception. The new U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, Crystal Nix-Hines, delivered a passionate speech about the lessons to be learned from the practices of slavery in past centuries and reminded us that modern-day slavery (human trafficking and forced labor) is just as atrocious a scourge in society today.

Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines addresses the crowd
© Discover Paris!

Ambassador Nix-Hines' husband, David Hines, then sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

David Hines
© Discover Paris!

Finally UNESCO Artist for Peace and spokesman for the Slave Route Project, Marcus Miller, regaled the audience with numerous artists who joined him on stage for an incredible jam session that lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

Marcus Miller
© Discover Paris!

Jam session
© Discover Paris!

View clips of the day's activities here:

Among the achievements cited by UNESCO for the Slave Route Project is the Permanent Memorial to Honor the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the United Nations building in New York.


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Black Writers at Festival AMERICA

Festival AMERICA is an event that features the literature and culture of North America. It is held in Vincennes, an eastern suburb of Paris, once every two years.

This year, several black writers from the United States, Haïti, and Canada will sit on numerous panels to discuss their publications.


The French translation of long-time Paris resident Jake Lamar's book, Postérité (English-language title: Posthumous), was released by Rivages on September 10, 2014. Jake received the prestigious Centre National du Livre award for this book. The English-language version has not yet been released.

Photo of Jake Lamar © Giles Plazy - Opale - Éditions Payot Rivages
Collage © Discover Paris!

Because Jake has participated in the festival multiple times, I asked him to comment on the event. He said the following:

This is my fourth invitation to Festival AMERICA since 2004. I’ve participated in lots of book festivals, all over France, and Festival America, in my experience, is maybe the best of them all. The list of writers is always very diverse. The organizers clearly put a lot of thought into the grouping of writers in different panel discussions. And the public is always very engaged and enthusiastic.

Philadelphian Ayana Mathis' first novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, was released in French under the title (Les Douze Tribus d'Hattie) by Gallmeister in January 2014. It is a New York Times Bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year 2013.

Photo of Ayana Mathis © Elena Seibert
Collage © Discover Paris!

Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. The French translation of Where the Line Bleeds was released in French under the title Ligne de Fracture in May 2014.

Photo of Jesmyn Ward © Tony Cook
Collage © Discover Paris!


Port-au-Prince native Dominique Batraville studied in Belgium and France before returning to Haïti in the aftermath of the fall of the Duvalier regime. His first novel, L’Ange de charbon, will be featured at the festival.

Photo of Dominique Batraville from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!

Louis-Philippe Dalembert received the RFO book prize for his novel, L’autre face de la mer, in 1999. He will discuss his most recent novel, Ballade d’un amour inachevé, at the festival this year.

Photo of Louis-Philippe Dalembert © Stephane Haskell
Collage © Discover Paris!

Henry Kénol is a prolific writer of novels, poems, and essays. His novel, Le désespoir des anges, is "inspired" by the armed gangs that ruled the streets of Haïti's cities during the 2000s.

Photo of Henry Kénol from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!

Journalist, screen writer, and essayist, Dany Laferrière now spends most of his time in Montreal, Canada. He describes his book, L'Art presque perdu de rien faire, as "an autobiography of my ideas." Laferrière is the first black since Léopold Sédar Senghor to be elected to the Académie Française.

Photo of Dany Laferrière © Jf Paga Grasset
Collage © Discover Paris!

Yanick Lahens is a professor of literature as well as a novelist, essayist, and documentary filmmaker. She was awarded the title of Officer of Arts and Letters by the Ambassador of France in Haiti this year. Her latest book, Bain de lune, tells a story of passion, voodoo, and politics.

Photo of Yanick Lahens from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!

Anthony Phelps' Nomade, je fus de très vieille mémoire is a personal anthology of poems written between 1961 and 2011. Phelps was a political prisoner of the Duvalier regime. Forced to leave the country after his release, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada. He has written over twenty books (short stories, novels, essays, and poems) that have been translated into seven languages.

Photo of Anthony Phelps © Setkafilms
Collage © Discover Paris!


Ryad Assani-Razaki was born in Cotonou, Benin in 1981. After studying computer science in the United States, he settled in Montreal. He now works as a computer scientist in Toronto. His first collection of short stories was awarded the Trillium in 2007. La Main d'Imam, the novel that is featured at the festival, received the Robert-Cliche prize in 2011.

Photo of Ryad Assani-Razaki © Fatou Binetou Kone
Collage © Discover Paris!

The 7th edition of Festival AMERICA will take place from September 11 through September 14. A youth festival, several photographic expositions, and films and concerts will complement the literary events at the festival.

The primary venue is the Centre Culturel Georges Pompidou, 142 rue de Fontenay, 94300 Vincennes. Several events will take place in additional sites nearby.

For more information, visit the official Festival AMERICA Web site (text in French).


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