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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

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Elsa Chyrum is this year’s African Heroine Award winner and led a presentation Sunday evening, just days after the end of a hunger strike that is leading to the release of 300 Eritrean detainees in Djibouti.

Elsa Chyrum is this year’s African Heroine Award winner and led a presentation Sunday evening, just days after the end of a hunger strike that is leading to the release of 300 Eritrean detainees in Djibouti.

Photographer: Katie Hendershot

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After hunger strike, human rights activist visits OHIO


African Cultural Week culminated Sunday evening with the African Student Heroine Lecture, which was presented by Elsa Chyrum, a London-based human rights activist from Eritrea.

Chyrum’s visit to OHIO came at a pivotal point in her work. After a recent hunger strike Chyrum launched, nearly 300 Eritrean detainees in Djibouti are set to be released in the coming week. Some have been held captive for six years.

In recognition of her achievements, the Ohio University African Student Union hosted Chyrum’s visit to campus, and she presented a lecture in the Friends of the Library Room.

“I think that my work has been recognized and that means that people have been following what is really happening in Eritrea,” said Chyrum, who is this year’s African Heroine Award winner. “My work is about freedom, about democracy, about human rights and so I’m so glad, I’m so far away from London, but here in Ohio people have been following me and that gives me great pleasure.”

Chyrum’s visit to campus was significant because it happened just days after the hunger strike ended, explained African Student Union President Jeremiah Asaka.

“The hunger strike led to the release of these people,” he said. “The Ohio University African Student Union I think recognized that. It sends a very powerful message to the rest of the world so that they know that human rights are a big thing. We are all equal.”

Chyrum talked about African migration, and discussed the push and pull factors that lead people in Africa to become refugees. She also mentioned the horrors that refugees often face on their journeys.

“Let us all hope for a brighter future for Africa,” Chyrum said towards the end of her presentation.

Also during her lecture, OHIO students Mohamed Yarba and Juan Boungou recited poems. Yarba spoke his in Arabic and utilized facial expressions, body language and tone to convey the poem’s message. Boungou also gave a dramatic performance of his poem, which helped to tell his story.

A video interview with Chynum’s daughter, Simona, was presented before her lecture, and she urged her mother to keep doing what she’s doing.

“I’m so happy I’ve got a mom like that,” she said in the video.

Asaka said he considered African Cultural Week to be a success. “Ending it with her talking on migration was so powerful,” he said.