The Yucatan Times conducted an exclusive interview with activists Brian Rusch from San Francisco CA and Tebogo Joy Ngoma from South Africa; they are both visiting Mérida on the occasion of the 17th edition of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
The pair was representing Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his opposition to South Africa’s brutal apartheid.
Tell us about Reverend Desmond Tutu
People always have the idea that a person who is powerful is untouchable, and they don’t relate to them in terms of being human in a sense, because of the work that they do.
If I would have to describe Desmond Tutu, I would say that he is the most reliable person that I’ve ever met, and when you are in his presence you feel seen, you feel welcome and then you feel as part of his family as well.
So that’s proof that he is far from being unreachable, but instead you realize that he is an incredible human being. So whenever you’re around him, you really feel like you’re part of the family, you feel part of who he is in a sense.
So, at the end of the day, you can kind of feel that you are special, as much as he is special, that’s what I would say about how he is as a human being.
People in my generation grew up reading about Desmond Tutu on the news, and more recently as he has appeared on several videos on the web, we can tell that he is a very nice, friendly and fun person to be around, constantly laughing and making jokes.
Yes, mostly because he started professionally as a teacher, always dealing with young people, and he is the type of man that always feels that he has to school you (but in a good way), it’s in his DNA, is just the way he is.
So personality wise, he has that presence of being a teacher, an authority, but at the same time, he is never overbearing, he is not outshining the person that he is interacting or engaging with, so I think that, in that sense, he has a sense of connectedness, so there is no barrier or border separating you from him as an individual.
I used to work with the Dalai Lama and I first met Archbishop Desmond Tutu when I conducted an interview with him.
Just like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to treat everybody in the room with kindness and love, and you instantly had a personal connection with him, that you don’t get with many other world leaders. My videographer for the interview was from Mexico City, so when the Archbishop learned that she was from Mexico, he asked her about the case of the missing students in her homeland. He asked her if the authorities ever found out what happened to them, and she told him that a mass grave was discovered. As he heard that answer, the Reverend suddenly just started crying.
That is the level of compassion he feels for every human around the world, he has a personal connection with all of us. And at that moment I knew I wanted to work with the Archbishop in some way, because it struck me as something personal, and it moved me deeply.
Let’s talk a little bit about Joy Tebogo
OK, I can tell you that on a personal level, I always try to be an example, be welcoming, be kind to people, regardless of how they treat me in return.
And in my professional space, I am a writer and a producer, I love creating content that connect people, and sort of like, bringing a diverse of multicultural legacy between nations and communities around the world. I love working with people and enjoy learning about different cultures.
I find that within my traveling or my space, there is a lot that connects us as humans, so for instance, I arrive here in Mexico, which is my first time, and I realize that the clothing and the food, is very similar to South African. The spirit of the Yucatecan people, is very much the same as the South African people in terms of hospitality and they make you feel that you are part of that community even if there is a language barrier.
So as the cultures are very much alike, you get to find a little bit piece of yourself within the culture itself. So I feel at home.
Growing up in an environment in which you are surrounded by so many people involved in different types of activism, it just gets natural.
Because everywhere you go, whatever you do, there’s always somebody doing something for the community. In South Africa we have a proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child”: and basically that’s how our country is, and our community is. Everybody wants to get involved so if your neighbor is doing a charitable event, you do not necessarily have to be invited, you just show up and that’s it. Naturally you feel like you have to be involved.
So, in my personal case, I think it all just began with my love for connecting with people in a sense, it is just a part of who I am, it’s a part of what I’m supposed to do as a human being. So, I cannot tell exactly at what age I started, but I always felt that sense of “I need to get involved”.
For the last year I had been living in Tbilisi, Georgia, so I think I’m always drawn to countries that have some kind of a “South African spirit”, and I feel the same way about Mexico in a sense. Because, with everything that is going on in Mexico with the economy, in terms of social injustice and then also with Georgia, because it is also a developing country, in both cases there is that similarity with the South African history, so I think I’m drawn to that kind of environment.
Joy, what can you say about your participation in this 17th edition of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates?
Well, we have been attending to one conference after another, we ourselves have not been speakers, but we feel honored to have been invited to the Summit as listeners and get to know about all of the topics that have to do with strategies and efforts to reach world peace, because all are fundamental.
And I think sometimes it is very important to be at the other side of the curtain, so you can observe what other people have to say.
Brian, what is your impression about the Summit so far?
I think it is amazing to see how the people of Mérida Yucatan are getting involved in this event, we actually had the great opportunity to spend time with people on the street and on the audience.
We participated in the Climate Change rally this morning and it included this beautiful ceremony presided by Rigoberta Menchú, it was quite moving and also, to see all those young people out there today, taking a stand against Climate Change, that’s what feeds our soul, and makes us do what we do.
Brian, if you could send a message to the people of Yucatán what would you say to them?
I would say that when I was younger, when I was growing up, people used to say that children are the future and youth are the future, and I think that’s not true, I think that youth are the present, and when you look at events like the climate strike today, that's clear evidence of that
So my message will go to the people of all ages, we really have to include young people and give them a voice in the conversations that we are having, whether that’s in our political issues, education systems, we really have to listen to them and include them as equals, not only talking down to them, but to actually have a conversation with them as equal partners in this thing, cause that’s the only way we will be able to move forward with future projects.