CONVERSATIONS……

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SHOULD BEGIN WITH AN OPEN MIND

The complaint is: “Nobody told me…” The truth is: No one was listening. Hearing is easy, listening is an art. Conversation is not conversation when everyone is talking and no one can hear what is said.. Missing, misunderstood, mistaken and all lost by the lack of intentional listening. (This goes on in our head as well.) – Too harried, too busy, too much. Just noise.
Remember, If you cannot hear the wind, you will never receive your message…

It seems like most of us are guilty of this at one time or another But have you noticed just how predisposed we become to listening when the talker her/himself is likewise a listener? For me, I believe conversations should begin with an open-mind; a practice of give and take exchange bet. individuals with no hidden agendas.

The African dream: A Malawian fashion designer’s colourful dreams

A Malawian fashion designer’s colourful dreams

African Dream: Malawi’s Lilly Alfonso

Malawi’s Lilly Alfonso dreams about her future in colours as vibrant as those of the clothes she makes.

New York, London, Milan and Cape Town are some of the cities that come to her mind when asked where she would like to see her designs 10 years from now.

As a matter of fact, some of her clothes were already shown in the UK capital last year, during the Africa Fashion Week, but she is convinced that this is just the beginning.

“Everywhere where fashion is, I want to be there, and I see myself making it. I’m not doubting on that one. I dream big and I’m dreaming in colour,” she told the BBC’s series African Dream.

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Everywhere where fashion is, I want to be there, and I see myself making it. I’m not doubting on that one. I dream big and I’m dreaming in colour”

According to the designer, her passion for fashion was already there as a child when she loved to play with fabrics in the southern city of Blantyre, where she grew up.

“I’d say fashion, I was born with it. I started when I was young, at the age of six. My mum would bath me and dress me, and I would totally change the design of the dress,” she remembers.

“As I grew older, people liked what I was designing, what I was wearing, so that inspired me and I started working on other people.”

She had two second-hand sewing machines that belonged to her mother and she started off with a tailoring business, when she was 24, but she says that fashion designing was still “a mere hobby”.

That hobby, however, helped her to launch her career when she won the Malawi Fashion Edition (FAME) award as country’s best fashion designer three years ago.

Financial challenges

“I never thought I was a designer until 2010 that I had a lot of clients and I’d design for Miss Malawi, I’d design for quite a lot of people,” Mrs Alfonso told BBC Africa’s Raphael Tenthani.

Continue reading the main story

Lilly Alfonso

Lilly Alfonso
  • Age: 33
  • Married. Has two daughters
  • Education: Advanced diploma in business administration. Attended a design summer course in Milan, Italy
  • Started off with a tailoring business when she was 24
  • Winner of the Malawi Fashion Edition (FAME) Best Fashion Designer award, 2010
  • Her designs were shown at Africa Fashion Week, London, 2012
  • Company: Lillies Creations
  • Brand: Lilly Alfonso
  • Employees: 7
  • Annual turnover: $90,000 (£60,000)
  • Hobbies: Hanging out with family and friends, travelling, listening to music

These days her studio – located in her house in an upmarket suburb of the capital, Lilongwe – is a bastion of activity as people organising weddings and other events troop to her for advice.

Although designer clothes are not cheap anywhere in the world, Mrs Alfonso says that her prices depend on the client that she is working for.

If the product is going to Europe, for example, she knows that she can ask for more money if she uses higher quality fabrics.

Back home, however, she can be more flexible with her pricing.

“Our economy right now is not really doing well so… I always use any reasonable resources to accommodate my country, for the people that can’t afford the other fabrics, but I still design the same design,” she explained.

Recently, Malawi’s currency, the kwacha, lost almost half its value and this has put a strain on the running of businesses.

Also, the inflation rate is hovering at around 33% while bank-lending rates are at about 40% in the southern African country.

All these factors are presenting extra challenges for people who, like Mrs Alfonso, want to expand their businesses.

“I’m having problems with raising the money to have massive production… to be able to reach my goal, I still need extra 10 machines,” she said.

“The prices of the fabric have been changing, the prices of everything have been changing; keeping the staff has been a problem because of how to balance up with the economy as it is,” added young entrepreneur, who has seven employees and many other weavers and tie-dye fabric designers.

Nurturing talent

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I’d advise everybody who has any talent – it’s not only in fashion – I’d advise everybody to believe in themselves, and do whatever it takes to make it happen”

Despite these challenges, Mrs Alfonso encourages other people to pursue their dreams and start their own businesses.

“I’d advise everybody who has any talent – it’s not only in fashion – I’d advise everybody to believe in themselves, and do whatever it takes to make it happen for them because God gives us this blessing but it’s only us to start acting on it.

“So if you know that you can do it, don’t stop it; no matter how criticism is, work on it because criticism is what makes us best. Believe in yourself and do it, and go for it”.

Now that she is 33 and has two daughters, she also recommends parents to support their children’s creativity.

“If you see that your child is gifted in a particular area – encourage them to pursue that alongside school.

“If you see a gift in a child – they need to research on that particular field and support the child in every way,” the award-winning designer who liked playing with fabrics at the age of six said.

If you have any questions for Lilly Alfonso, please join her in a live Q&A on the BBC Africa Facebook page from 1600 – 1700GMT on Friday 22 February.

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Focus on Africa radio programme every Thursday afternoon, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.

Gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram threatened

DAKAR (Reuters) – Gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram threatened on Monday to kill a kidnapped French family of seven if authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon do not release Muslim militants held there.

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks to the media next to his Peruvian counterpart Rafael Roncagliolo (not pictured) after the signing of bilateral agreements at a meeting in Lima February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks to the media next to his Peruvian counterpart Rafael Roncagliolo (not pictured) after the signing of bilateral agreements at a meeting in Lima February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

French ministers said they believed the three adults and four children seized in Cameroon’s far north near the Nigerian border on Tuesday were being held by Boko Haram, which has killed hundreds in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria.

The first sign of the family since they were captured came in a video posted on YouTube in which they appeared surrounded by three gunmen wearing turbans and dressed in camouflage.

“We have been taken by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad”, one of the male hostages said in the video.

“They want the liberation of their brothers in Cameroon and their women imprisoned in Nigeria,” the man added, reading notes in French as he sat on a red rug on the floor.

Beside him sat a woman dressed in a black veiled dress, another man and four young children.

The hostage-taking highlighted the risk to French citizens in Africa after Paris sent thousands of troops into Mali last month to oust Islamists operating in the country’s vast desert north.

“A video of the French family kidnapped in northern Cameroon last Tuesday has just been posted by Boko Haram,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “These images are terribly shocking and show a cruelty without limits.”

The kidnapping brought to 15 the number of French citizens being held in the region.

“WAR ON ISLAM”

France has carried out hundreds of air strikes and dispatched 4,000 troops to Mali to defeat the mixture of al Qaeda-linked groups that hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion and occupied the northern two-thirds of the country.

After swift victories in Mali’s main towns, French troops risk becoming bogged down in a bloody conflict against an enemy that is using guerrilla tactics and suicide bombs, and has pledged reprisal attacks across the region.

“The president of France has launched a war on Islam and we are fighting it everywhere,” said one of the apparent kidnappers, speaking in Arabic and identifying himself as a member of Boko Haram.

“Implement our demands. If you leave out even one, we will kill these people,” he added, with a pistol at his feet.

The governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Augustine Fonka Awa, said he was not aware of any Boko Haram members being held in the country.

The Nigerian militant group has previously posted videos in Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria. Yet the video, whose date of recording was not clear, was only in Arabic.

The black and white flag that hung behind the hostages in the released video is more associated with groups tied to al Qaeda than Boko Haram.

A spokesman for Boko Haram had denied any connection with the kidnapping at the weekend, saying it remained committed to a ceasefire.

However, security experts in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter, say Boko Haram is made up of multiple cells, without a defined command structure.

“It is therefore not unsurprising that you have one group claiming a ceasefire, just as another splinter cell is raising its profile with this kidnapping,” said a Nigeria-based Western security source, asking not to be named.

The militant group is known to have had some links to al Qaeda factions in North Africa and Mali, where fighters are believed to have spent some time training.

Although limited for now, the conflict in Mali appears to have deepened connections between mainly Arab Islamist militants in North Africa and black African movements south of the Sahara.

(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif in Cairo, Joe Brock in Abuja and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

French children kidnapped in Cameroon ‘shown in video’

French children kidnapped in Cameroon ‘shown in video’

Still from the video alleged to show the French victims
French authorities are trying to verify the authenticity of the video
 

A video published on YouTube appears to show seven members of a French family, including four children, abducted by Islamists in Cameroon.

The video shows an armed man reading a statement in front of two men, a woman and four children.

Claiming to be from the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, the alleged kidnappers demand the release of prisoners in Cameroon and Nigeria.

The family were snatched last Tuesday by gunmen on motorbikes.

Following the abduction, the French government said it believed the couple, their children aged five, eight, 10 and 12, and an uncle were taken across the border into Nigeria, probably by Boko Haram.

The family live in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, where the father worked for the French gas group Suez. They had been returning from a visit to Waza National Park when they were kidnapped.

‘Terribly shocking’

On Thursday, France confirmed it had “received information that the group Boko Haram is claiming to be holding the French family”.

“These images are terribly shocking and display cruelty without limits,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

In the video, one of the male hostages said they had been kidnapped by Jamaatu Ahlis Sunna Liddaawati wal-Jihad – the Arabic name for Boko Haram.

One of the alleged kidnappers warned that France had launched a war on Islam.

Behind him, the alleged family is shown flanked by two armed men in camouflage uniforms.

A source close to the family confirmed their identities to the AFP news agency.

France’s foreign ministry said it was still trying to verify the authenticity of the video.

Last week, a French minister wrongly confirmed reports that the family had been found and released in Nigeria.

Cameroonian soldiers and officials surround the car from which a French family of seven were kidnapped The family were seized from this vehicle as they toured northern Cameroon

Meanwhile, French nationals have been urged to leave northern Cameroon “as quickly as possible”.

The French foreign ministry said on its website citizens were “officially advised not to go to the far north of Cameroon (the shores of Lake Chad in the South Maroua), and the border with Nigeria, until further notice”.

Boko Haram has staged many attacks across northern Nigeria in recent years, targeting churches, government buildings and the security forces.

Another Islamist group – Ansaru – is also active in the region.

Last Sunday, Ansaru claimed the abduction of seven foreign workers in Nigeria.

Italian, British, Greek and Lebanese workers are thought to be among those held after an attack on a construction project in Bauchi state.

Ansaru also says it is holding a French national, Francis Colump, who was seized in the northern state of Katsina.