Emmanuel Achiri is a PhD student of International Relations with a major in human rights, refugee issues and conflict studies and works as a Research assistant at Eastern Mediterranean University. He is the current President and one of the co-founders of VOIS Cyprus alongside Fiona Kavakure, Ezinne Favour Ogwuegbu and Adeyinka Oladapo. Emmanuel Achiri was born and raised in Cameroon.
Could you share what exactly VOIS is and what the acronym VOIS stands for?
VOIS stands for “voices of international students”. I believe the name itself is a little self-explanatory, it is a student non – governmental organization which aims to represent international students by being the voice of students to express what they feel and their experiences, through their very own voices and experiences. VOIS not only talks about student’s experiences, we also come together as international students to look for solutions to problems that students face. When we talk about solving problems, it means we work together with Cypriot locals and the government, to create a good working relation. A working relation can only exist if locals and international students have empathy for each other’s experiences. Locals need to realize that some of the things international students go through are not only illegal but also morally wrong. They also need to respect the basic human rights of international students. We aim to provide an avenue for students to express themselves.
Do you run VOIS alone?
No I do not run VOIS alone, in fact it’s impossible to run VOIS alone. We have a very large team, VOIS is not registered under any of the universities it is a non-governmental organization that transcends all the six major universities in North Cyprus. We have offices in all the major universities including Eastern Mediterranean University, CIU, Near East University, European University of Lefke, Girne American University and University of West Scotland. This means we have a very large team and we are constantly trying to grow and expand, we have teams of ten sometimes more individuals in each university. EMU currently hosts the largest team seeing as it is the birth place of VOIS. We have a team of about 50 to 60 persons who are active in the field. We continue to look forward to more international students seeing the value of VOIS and choosing to join and become members. We have a saying that goes ‘you either join VOIS or end up needing VOIS’, of course we would much prefer if students join so we can prevent problems from occurring rather than just reacting when negative experiences occur. We are not only consumed with the negative experiences, we also try to encourage students to talk about the positive experiences and share the beauty and uniqueness of North Cyprus.
What would you say motivated the VOIS Founders to start up VOIS?
This has been a dream of mine for a while now, when I arrived in 2014 my experiences motivated me to try and find solutions and ways to make life easier for international students like me. I thought by becoming the president of the Cameroonian society I would be able to make a significant impact and influence students, but upon joining, I realized it wasn’t just enough to become president, because there are certain things I can and some I cannot do especially concerning issues that occurred outside of school. So I started thinking of a larger organization that could encompass all other issues. A workshop was held to discuss the problems faced by international students. Most of the co-founders of VOIS and I happened to all be panelists in this workshop. The workshop motivated us to come together to discuss and try and find a more sustainable way to track and address this issues. The death of a Nigerian student really triggered us to stop talking and make definite plans to start the organization, so we decided to create an organization and after a long discussion from the 4th of February into the early morning of the 5th of February 2018 at around 4am, we decided to launch VOIS.
What would you say was your greatest challenge when you decided to start up VOIS?
I would rather we don’t talk about greatest challenge as if it is a thing of the past. We still face the very same challenges we first did when VOIS was first founded, these challenges are still very current and still ongoing. I would say our greatest challenge has always been how not only to motivate ourselves as members of VOIS but also international students to join the organization. Due to the fact that we are self-run, we have to raise the money ourselves, we try to host open mics night and gather contributions from members to raise money but we are all students so this has been a big issue. We have also had funding from the teachers union in the past. It has also been quite difficult to demand that students sacrifice their time and energy because it takes up a lot of time and energy to be able to do what we do.
What impact do you believe VOIS has had on students and what are the benefits that VOIS provides?
The VOIS has had a lot of successes, but the most recent one is concerning Michael the Nigerian student who had kidney failure. We were able to secure a scholarship for him from EMU and the ministry of health has agreed to give him a special discount concerning treatments. We are doing a lot of work and continue to put pressure on the various institutions to try and bring to their attention some of the issues students go through. We are also working with the Ministry of Education to provide recommendations for scholarship opportunities and with the Ministry of Labour to improve the working conditions of students. Some of the activities we do are successful but sadly some are not, due to the fact that not all ministries are very welcoming and it takes a lot to secure meetings with these ministries. We organize game nights as well to help students better challenge themselves.
Who are the people that benefit from the VOIS?
International students definitely benefit the most from VOIS seeing as we created the organization for them, but the long term goal is for the local community as a whole to also be able to benefit from VOIS, because we believe our destinies are tied together, because the social and economic changes we want to implement will also benefits locals and make Cyprus more attractive to outsiders who can see Cyprus as a safe welcoming place for international students.
How exactly is the VOIS different from other non-governmental organisations?
Other organizations in north Cyprus mostly represent locals. VOIS is the only non -governmental organization that is created by students to represent students, so we are speaking as students so this what is unique
- Are you optimistic and excited about the VOIS future as a whole? Any plans to expand? Where do you see the VOIS in the next 5 years?
VOIS is going to be expanding very soon, we will soon create offices and branches in Palestine as well as Turkey. We are very optimistic about VOIS, in fact we are recruiting a lot of new students because they are the future of the organization. We also have a 10 year plan for VOIS which is that, in 10 years when we visit North Cyprus, when we are no longer here, our vision is to see a VOIS that has a main office and has a building space and has very direct contact with the various stakeholders in Cyprus. We expect that in 10 years’ time when someone speaks about VOIS, they speak with pride and VOIS will have created an equal standing with the other organizations.