Behind the Bongo Ball

There’s not many events in St Andrews that have so successfully put the charity that they support behind everything they do. And Bongo Ball is definitely one of the few that have succeeded in doing so. When Owl Eyes covered the ball last year, we definitely were’t kidding when we concluded the review with; “If you didn’t go to Bongo, you really missed out” This unique, colourful, and verging on crazy, evening has been so successful, in raising money for the Xavier Project, that they’re now beginning to branch out to other universities; definitely something that those organising the ball should be proud of.

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This year has really emphasised, more than ever, the humble beginnings of the Xavier Project. Founded in 2008, by St Andrew’s student Ed Page, the first Bongo Ball provided excitement which the bubble had not yet came close to experiencing. Six years on, and Bongo Ball has grown massively, still providing a significant portion of funds to the project and fun for the guests who attend. The Xavier Project now provides multidimensional, and sustainable, support for refugees living in urban areas of Kenya and Uganda. One of their successes, that’s graced the streets of St Andrews quite a bit this week, is their distinct Rafiki Fabrics. Produced by Anne Nsmire, a Congolese refugee living in Kenya, the business has grown so well, that it’s able to support the charity which helped to fund it. And if you haven’t yet sussed out of your outfit, you’ll be very pleased to know the the committee, will be selling the prints this month – give them a like on Facebook to stay updated.

You can see how the fabrics are produced alongside some fitting dance-moves, further to the end, which serve as a preview to the festivities ahead. Bongo Ball’s Sophie Capaldi got in touch with a Sage Lancaster – a fourth year student – who recently travelled to Kenya to spend three weeks volunteering with the Xavier Project, and kindly provided the following interview:

Sophie: How did you get involved with the Xavier Project?

Sage: Well, when I was in Second Year I won a five-week trip to Uganda with the volunteering company AV. I actually won it as a raffle prize at Bongo Ball and I was so excited because it was something I really wanted to do! So I went last summer and it was absolutely incredible, and whilst I was there I met some lifelong friends who made me promise to visit them in Kenya one day. So the following year I got in touch with the founder of Xavier Project, Ed Page, because I’d heard of Xavier through the Bongo Ball, and I decided to go out to Kenya this summer. There were a number of warnings from the US and UK governments advising people not to visit Kenya at the moment, but speaking with Ed and my friends in Nairobi, there didn’t seem to be apparent danger. Going to spend three weeks in Nairobi, I can say that at no point did I feel that my safety was in any way at danger.

Sophie: So what were your main roles and responsibilities there?

Sage: We ran kids’ camps for refugee children who had come from other parts of Africa to seek refuge in Nairobi. The kids were between the ages of 14 to 20, and we organised many different classes for them, including life skills, study skills, and history and culture lessons. We also played football and lots of games, and every Friday we would set up a debate. The question was “should refugees be sent back to camps?” We were concerned with the way in which the refugee children were treated as outsiders, and we often discussed the refugee status and the public’s misconceptions of their resettlement situation.

One thing that really struck me was how much the kids, especially the older kids between the ages of 16 and 20, talked about the importance of education. It was the key issue that they all focussed on, and its importance in their lives. These kids are all so interested and engaged, and incredibly driven as well. They all talked about how they needed their education to fulfil their dreams of becoming engineers, lawyers, doctors, et cetera. They were incredibly inspiring.

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Sophie: Did you experience Xavier Project’s Rafiki Fabrix business? 

Sage: Yes! I’m thrilled that The Bongo Ball sells Rafiki here in St Andrews! I saw the process of how the material is printed with hot wax stencils and dyed with colour, then the wax washes off once dried and reveals the patterns underneath. Anne, who runs Rafiki Fabrix, was fantastic and once a week she allowed the children from the kids’ camps to come and get involved as well, which they absolutely loved! They would all make a T-shirt and then the winner of the talent show at the kids’ camp every Friday was given the T-shirt as their prize! It was so invaluable to see where Rafiki comes from, and the process involved in making it. None of us really think about where our clothes come from but seeing the production made me appreciate and understand the work that goes into Rafiki Fabrix so much more.

Sophie: Was the experience challenging at any point?

Sage: I guess because I had already visited Uganda the previous summer, and travelled in Eastern Africa before, I knew somewhat what to expect and was incredibly excited to once again travel and learn from another country. If anything, it was actually coming back that was difficult. Speaking to kids about how much their education means to them really put things into perspective and makes me want to work as hard as possible in my studies. It’s interesting coming back and engaging in chat about clothes and events, and it makes me realise how important it is to focus on and learn about the charities that all of the St Andrews events are actually for. I always learn so much from travelling. Coming back from Uganda I remember I had really learnt to live in the moment and appreciate every given day. In Kenya I appreciated the absence of time, and coming back to the UK it seems crazy the large role that keeping time plays. We are always busy and planning and thinking about the next thing, making it more difficult to truly just appreciate the here and now.

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Sophie: So would you encourage other students to volunteer with Xavier Project?

Sage: Definitely. The only way to fully find out about what a charity is all about is to go out and experience it first-hand. I met so many wonderful and welcoming people because of Xavier Project and I’d absolutely recommend the experience to others!

For more information about volunteering with Xavier Project, please visit http://www.xavierproject.org/ or email the founder, Ed Page, on e.page@xavierproject.org

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