U.S. Sen Chris Coons, D-Delaware, hosted his 5th annual Opportunity: Africa conference in Wilmington Friday, connecting Delaware residents, organizations and leaders dedicated to strengthening Africa.
The event connects Delaware businesses, faith leaders and residents who are interested in Africa. Each year it features guest speakers and panel discussions on topics ranging from trade, human rights and sustainable development.
“The basic purpose of my annual opportunity Africa conference is to connect Delawareans to Africa, Africa to Delawareans, and allow those of us from Delaware who, through our businesses, congregations or work lives, have a connection to Africa to meet each other,” Coons said.
The senator became interested in Africa after studying in Kenya and throughout his travels to Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa.
“Those experiences exposed me to Africa, to the enormous heart and potential of its people and helped me become interested for a lifetime in the progress, politics and possibilities of the African continent,” Coons said.
Entrepreneur, philanthropist and economist Tony Elumelu of Nigeria delivered a keynote address. He said Coons’ event is a small part of helping Africa thrive.
“Everywhere he supports Africa, not just about giving, but more about helping Africa become fishermen—because that is what we need; self-reliant, self-dependent Africa,” he said.
Several Africans living in Delaware who work to provide resources to Africans attended the conference. Rev. George Class-Peters, originally from Ghana, organized African Culture Heritage Day in Smyrna, and opened an office to help Africans integrate into the U.S.
He said Africa is an up-and-coming continent with the opportunity to grow its economy and resources with the help of its own natives who can use their education to benefit the societies.
“I think Africa has the potential to become self-reliant, but they don’t realize their own capabilities,” Class-Peters said. “It’s time for Africans to know they have the power and ability to overcome situations. It’s all in the mind, and if they put their mind to it they can do it.”
Several national and local organizations set up booths to educate attendees on the work being done overseas and at home.
Sue Dagenais, the co-leader of the Delaware chapter of Dining for Women, said over the past five years her local group has raised close to $800,000 for women and girls in Africa.
The organization raises money for grassroots organizations that work to increase literacy, social justice, human rights and sustainability for women and girls in third-world countries.
“We would love to spread into some schools and universities, get younger people involved, so they can begin this practice of helping us all be responsible for one another,” Dagenais said. “The more we can eradicate poverty and other things the better off our world will be.”