ROSEÉ Series - In Conversation with Everina Munyonge

ROSEÉ Series - In Conversation with Everina Munyonge

To mark International Women's Day, we bring you a special edition of ROSEÉ Series. A series of interviews from remarkable women who are not afraid to live and lead in colourful style. We hope their bravery, strength and courage inspire you to live your life in full and in colour. We hope their stories inspire you as much as they’ve inspired us.

A community development officer, health and hicking founder, oenophile, foody at heart, sister and friend, Everina (Eve) is not afraid to lead in colourful style. We speak with Eve on the topic of fashion, her reality of living in the diaspora and inspirations behind Hike with Everina.

Your admirer for African inspired fashion

Hmm, I can't think of anyone specific, but various African brands inspire me. Some of these include Grass-Fields and ROSEÉ, I keep coming back for more! I am in awe of LaviebyCK and what she has achieved at such a young age. She's changed the game of high-end African fashion. Other clothing brands that have inspired me are Abyei the Label and MazzPrints.

I also think that it has to do with our culture as well. African prints is the signature "traditional wear" in many African countries. We see our aunties, mothers, grandmothers rocking and owning their African attires, and you've got to love it. For me, many young women are now creating their styles from that. It's like we don't want to wear what our mothers wore precisely. But we love the colours, the boldness, the confidence you feel, the culture, what it represents, and I guess in our way, we've created a distinct era of African fashion.

As a teenager in my country (Congo DR), I dreaded the thought of having to wear "appropriate" clothing for "married women"; I could not imagine myself wearing them. I have always loved African prints, but I felt out of place in most older women's styles. I witnessed this when friends married and became mothers; their fashion styles changed instantly. I always told myself, "That will not be me". So, when brands like ROSEÉ started creating pieces suitable for young women, I started incorporating African inspired pieces in my wardrobe. A girl became so bold that I started wearing them to work.

In a nutshell, there's so much we could do with it. It's not just liputas with libaya or bubu (All African prints from Congo). There's so much to explore, and I am excited about what the future holds for African-inspired fashion.

On her reality of living in the diaspora

It is an honour to be presented with so many opportunities in Australia that I wouldn't have had if I were still in my home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, gaps exist when it comes to inclusion in many areas in the fashion world and in corporate, healthcare, sport, entertainment, leadership, and politics. We have made progress since I first arrived in Australia 12 years ago, but we can do better. I am hopeful for the future and what lies ahead for us.

Sadly, I see many stereotypes about what "being African" means in this country, and they are silent; you don't hear about them all the time, which makes them even more dangerous. When things like "Apex Gang" or "two young African women breaking COVID-19 restrictions" make the headlines, you realize racism exists in Australia.

As a young black woman, I constantly find that I have to prove myself by working twice as hard to prove people wrong. There is a lot of pressure to always be good, be a good role model for the community, and it can be exhausting. You know, for people to come here on humanitarian visas, we always have to play catch-up on everything, and you have to be on top of your game to keep up. So while living in the diaspora is rewarding because of the various opportunities, the pressure is high. It's partly why mental health (among immigrants) is a pandemic in western societies.

On the inspirations behind Hike with Everina and her career in community development

The inspiration behind Hike with Everina came from my love for hiking, nature and my studies. When I started the project, I had been hiking for a couple of years, and usually, it was with a hiking buddy or a small group of friends.

I believe that hiking is essential; it has contributed to my well-being. I wanted more Africans to explore this option as a positive step towards well-being. The idea was also around social connection. It was an opportunity to build networks with different young people from African backgrounds. Let's face it, so many of us are working hard and succeeding in our respective fields.

Since I started "Hike with Everina", I have noticed a lot of Africans in Waterfall Gully and Mt Lofty Summit. Different factors could be at play, but the number of Africans accessing that trail has increased. When I started hiking a few years ago, I hardly saw African people. Now and then, I would come across one or two who are regular hikers. One of the women who started with us (an older Congolese woman) is now a regular hiker and unstoppable.

I would love to see more Africans, both young and old, taking proactive steps towards their well-being (physical and psychological). The way to go is to find something you enjoy doing and stick to that; it could be yoga, walking, running, jogging, playing sport etc. In the future, I am keen to explore different hiking trails in South Australia, across Australia and in other countries around the world. I want to start going camping just for hiking, but I am also terrified of snakes; it's not a good combination.

In my current role as a Community Development Officer, I see how both my lived experience and studies influence my approach to work. Working as a community development officer is a good starting point for me because I get to use my psychological science and public health background at my current workplace. We work with survivors of torture and trauma, so the work is challenging and rewarding. I see myself working and progressing in the same or related field in terms of career progression.

For aspiring individuals looking to follow a similar path in business

The most important thing that you would need to identify are your various interests. From that, figure out which one gives you the strongest conviction. Suppose you are studying social work, public health or community development. It's essential to research different organisations and find out what volunteer opportunities are available within these organisations or your community.

I think it's essential to identify your long term career goals. This is usually a good starting point if you identify with a particular community. Most not-for-profit organisations rely heavily on volunteers, so there will always be something out there. Volunteering is a great way to build on those networks within your field of interest, and the saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know" is true, so start putting yourself out there. Don't mistake "waiting until you graduate to start building" connections. I landed my current role through my qualification and by volunteering.

Suppose you are already in the workforce (especially in a related field) but are looking into changing careers. You need to do your research and talk to people you know who currently work in community development. Upskill or reskill yourself in the area. If possible, seek voluntary work in an organisation you see yourself working in. That will prepare you for the opportunities ahead.

To see more of Eve’s work, follow her Instagram page at @hikewitheverina @everina_28.

Thank you, Eve!

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