It’s hard to find a single word to describe Shingai Mushayabasa. The 25-year-old works for Active Horizons and Friends of the Earth, but doesn’t want you to call her an activist, yet. “…Until the day that I am actually an activist and I’m on the ground, I’m not going to be claiming titles that I’m not,” said the Zimbabwean migrant.
She describes herself as passionate about race and social justice, proving so in the type of work she undertakes. At Active Horizons, Shinagai focuses on empowering Black ethnic minority young people by promoting their participation in public affairs, and at Friends of the Earth she engages young people in conserving the environment.
Shingai got involved in community organising even when still at school, taking part in campaigns such as City Safe and Living Wage and lobbying MP’s.
Her passion for the environment began even earlier, as a girl in Zimbabwe, when during visits to her grandmother’s homestead she saw the destruction caused by the drought every 10 years. Even now as an adult she points to changes in the weather and flooding in the UK to illustrate the necessity for people of all ages and races to act on climate change.
Shingai came to the UK in 2005, at 14 with her school teacher parents and two brothers, and describes the move as ‘standard.’ They came over after her mother applied for her visa and listed the family as her dependents. However, the journey was not necessarily easy.
She was unprepared for the ‘emotional journey’ of moving. “Everyone seems to be an immigration officer,” she says of her non-migrant peers. Questions like ‘Why are you here?’, ‘Oh, why did you come from Zimbabwe’, and ‘Where did you learn to speak in English?’ might open up wounds she says. Questions of this sort are used to remind migrants they “do not belong” or make them feel ashamed of their roots, according to Shingai, and she cautions people some migrants’ stories may be traumatic.
The difficulties she experienced while settling in the school, which was not very diverse, eased when she befriended other migrants. “Even until now we are the best of friends because we’ve got that shared experience that sometimes other people might not understand,” Shingai says.
Despite these problems, Shingai enjoys being a global citizen. Shingai eats food traditional to Zimbabwe to stay connected to her roots. The scent of maize, using her mother tongue, social media, news, and even jewelry also keep her connected to Zimbabwe.
She is also a member of the 1980 Alliance, a black literature book club. Black youths are seldom assigned Black authors in school and the book club is a great way of exposing readers to successful black writers and academics.
Nevertheless, Shingai considers diversity the most amazing fact about the UK offering a shared multicultural experience she could not get in Zimbabwe.
Despite being a law graduate, Shingai’s ultimate goal is to influence as many young people as possible to mobilise and find the motivation within themselves to bring about social change. “I want to see change, social change, I just don’t want to sit back,” she explains while emphasising the importance and power of grassroots action.
Shingai may not want to be described as an activist yet, but the words passionate and inspirational cannot be avoided when considering her life and work as a migrant in the UK.