Influencer Lionel Janga
Interview October 2022
Picture: © Tico Vos
Lionel, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in a neighborhood called Kalabari, in Santa Maria in Curaçao. We had a family consisting of 5 sisters and 4 brothers. Both my father and my mother were very important to me, but especially my mother as she used to do whatever it took, sewing, cooking, baking cakes, to make ends meet. This while she also was an avid reader of newspapers and magazines and this reading habit, combined with the importance she gave to our education, has helped me become who I am today. Education was according to her the way to advance in society. Growing up in the “barrio” was fun, as we played music, baseball and soccer while paying attention to our advances in school. Up to this moment in time, I still have good contact with some friends from the “barrio” and I still visit the “barrio” with regularity and there I developed my skills to deal with children and the youth.
When I turned 18 years old I went to Holland with a scholarship from the Dutch government for my studies.
I am married to my second wife, as my first wife passed away at an early age. I have no children of myself but I do have almost 20 nephews and nieces.
My father’s mother was from Bonaire and via her, I heard nice stories about the history of Bonaire. My father had close ties in Otrobanda and through him, I developed a love for Otrobanda. All these experiences have influenced me greatly.
Could you share something about any other aspect of your educational background and your experiences?
I went to the primary school at the Sint Antonius in Santa Maria and always was the best student in my class. I was a good student as I loved reading newspapers and the Readers Digest.
Eventually I even started helping some youth friends from the barrio with their grammar and mathematics, under a tree. And all this gave me an edge. I have constantly surpassed expectations during my school years. I was sent to the LTS (the primary technical school) to be tested but ended up at the MAVO at Sint Thomas College in 1968/1969, after one year my teacher Mr. Testing, a very kind teacher, saw my talents and he suggested that I be sent to the HAVO at the MIL and after 2 years it was recommended that I be sent to the VWO and at the age of 18 years, I graduated and went to Holland for my studies. At MIL I was a diligent student. I had classmates that were children of Medical Doctors and other high professionals, and our group was the first one that finalized the VWO in 1974. After weighing the possibility to study in Amsterdam and considering studying Economics, I decided to study at the University of Groningen Social and Economic Geography, with a Major in Spatial Planning. Geography concerns the patterns of the use the land and Spatial Planning is how to use the land for social and economic development purposes. As minors, I also studied Development Economics, Demographics, and Cultural Anthropology.
After graduating in 1981, I traveled a lot and visited different countries like Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and in 1983 I started to work at the Island Government of Curaçao as a spatial planner at DROV.
I retired from the Government service in 2017 as a director of ROP, but I am still very active in different committees and boards related to the sectors of Planning, our heritage, the environment and as a part-time teacher.
For my life’s work and achievements, I was honored by our government with the ‘Krus di Mérito’ in 2020.
We know you are to be a very socially involved citizen, first in environmental issues, community development, a scholar, of late involved in our cultural heritage, where did this drive come from?
I love “Planning”, I am a part-time teacher at the University of Curaçao (UoC) and I love music, writing, and the Arts.
I am closely involved with Yubi Kirindongo for over 30 years now on the board of a foundation that was founded, helping him out with his administration and projects. I am now encouraging schools to visit his museum so that they can take notice of this Internationally renowned artist from Curaçao. Yubi is known by the Royal family and has had exhibitions in amongst others China, Paris, New York, South Africa and Amsterdam. His work is highly appreciated. Yubi represent a role model that proves that “the Sky is the limit”.
I have also been involved with Luigi Pinedo helping out with an exhibition in Otrobanda and a book about his life. I have written art books about Eb Marcano and Mac Alberto (his works of art with trees are noticeable). All of this working in the background, in silence. I play music, the guitar and the bass and am acquainted with the renowned musicians Cedric Dandare and Eric Calmes who used to be former classmates. I have been a DJ and am now hosting a Jazz program on the radio.
In general, I promote cultural projects in whichever way I can. I have written books on Arts and about Slavery with Charles do Rego. My writings are known internationally and locally. I also inspire and promote others active in the Cultural Sector. How? I am a board member of the Prince Bernard Cultural Foundation, which enable me to contribute to the development of art and culture on our islands.
I have been one of those that helped establish different monuments like the ‘Desenkadena’ Monument at Parke Lucha pa Libertat at Rif and the ‘Moketanan di lucha’ (Fists) in different historic areas on the island. Always in silence, as I despise publicity.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I don’t worry about challenges. If they show up, I go through the motions and deal with them. I love exploring new things and venues. This exploration leads me new experiences. Even surprises teach you new things. And we learn from our mistakes in life. I live nowadays from “day-to-day”, even though I am a planner by profession and know how to look ahead. If I have to name one challenge anyway, it would be my health.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now and do what you are doing now?
My Big Why is to explore and utilize all that I have in talents and capacities, most optimally. After I retired from the government service, I had to find new horizons and take up my passions .
I kept being active since then. At the end of my life, I don’t want to abandon this planet without leaving a legacy. I cherish all opportunities to make full use of my talents and abilities.
Consequently amongst others I have been involved in the establishment of the monument and the ‘Parke di Libertat’ at Rif, have been working on the rehabilitation of Tula and his comrades together with Don Martina, Suzy Römer, Yandi Paula, Frank Quirindongo, Nolda Kenepa and Jaime de Sola to mention some.
By persevering and applying patience we have reached some big milestones, culminating now in the ongoing procedure with the Dutch government to rehabilitate Tula and to study the impact slavery had on our societies in the Dutch Kingdom and the measures to be taken in this respect.
As a member of the local Platform dealing with Slavery and it’s Heritage we together with the UoC are now part of this whole process.
I would suggest to read the book from Prof. Dr. Yandi Paula. He wrote in ‘From objective to subjective social barriers’, that the objective barriers dating from the slavery days for our development have been removed but were overtaken by subjective barriers internalized after the abolition of slavery especially among our people of African descent. This explains for example why we don’t trust each other or have difficulties working together.
The challenge right now is to overcome these subjective social barriers.
A parliamentary delegation, the State Secretary Van Huffelen, Minister Hanke Bruin Slot and members of the Royal family are all interested to know more about our past, as they are interested to know the other side of our common history.
This might reach a climax in the upcoming year 2023. 160 years after the abolition of slavery in Curaçao, we are still dealing with the devastating effects on the self-worth of our people. We need to address this issue if we want to make some serious and stable advances in our development as a country.
What are your strengths?
Patience and perseverance. Because I know that certain things take time, I leave time “to do its work”, but I will not give up. My motto for my life is ‘Patience and Perseverance’. I have had this from the moment I started going to school. Never try to force anything. I keep my eyes on my goal and wait for people and or events to connect.
Do you have other hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love music, the arts, writing, sports, reading, hiking in nature, and watching interesting topics on the TV, I loved restoring old furniture but nowadays I don’t have the time for this.
If you as Lionel would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in Berlin or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I will start by mentioning my name. I would start asking questions about the other person, as I am very interested in other people and will take my time to get to know them better. As I am a humble person, I will not immediately start telling them a lot about myself. But if it comes so far, I will tell them that I am a friendly person that loves ‘The Truth’.
How would you describe Lionel in one word or one sentence?
Very committed to my country, my family, and those I work with.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My mother as she was very much involved in stimulating and guiding us to read a lot and taught us how important education is for our future. My father, in a different way, as he made me know Otrobanda and the street life.
Other people that inspired me were:
Father Amado Römer when I was active in the parochial advisory board of the church and working in the “barrio’s”, I learned a lot from him. There is how I got to know Mireli America by the way.
Freek de Vries was the project manager in the construction of the Sonesta hotel, now the Marriott hotel. When my first wife became ill and later passed away, we became very close friends. I even stayed at his house when I was in Holland.
A Professor de Jong at the University of Groningen picked me up and became a father to me of sorts when at a certain period during my studies I slumped. He later even put me in his testament. When I graduated he came to visit me in Curacao to see where I was living and working.
Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were role models to me, in the way they handled their lives and dealt with setbacks.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
I take on too much work because I have difficulty saying “no” to people, whilst not hurting them. This means that at times it becomes too much for me. I am still learning how to cope with this, for example, I don’t pick up my phone during the weekends and I am still applying time management. So I am working on this.
What was a defining moment in your life?
There were different defining moments. The passing away of my mother in 2021. Going to Holland with 18 years to study and coming back to Curaçao after my studies. Of the 150 students that started their studies, only 30 finalized their studies. This showed me that I am worthy, talented, and capable.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
I am teaching lessons to about 40 pupils at the primary school level and 15 students at UoC. I hope that they will say later on that I have meant something in their development. Some of them don’t have a father present in their education and live in poverty.
I can see via my teaching some perspective and they are progressing slowly but surely. And they appreciate this a lot. Just like Mr. Testing, Freek de Vries, and Mr. de Jong at the University, did to me, I hope that they will say that I have contributed positively in their development. That would be a great legacy. The opportunity, offered to me to teach them, allows me to explain different themes to them. It is fun to do and gives satisfaction to see their progress.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
Curaçao is in the last 388 years, since 1634, going up and down .. We have nowadays enough people who know what to do to make the country progress in the region and the world. We need however to teach our people to move forward and progress steadily instead of getting stuck in the same situations.
Why is the recognition of our heroes, like Tula, so important? Because we gave to conclude matters and move forward. Once we have conclude this we can move on and direct our energy on other pressing matters. We need to establish which way we are heading in the next 10 to 20 years. To do this we need to know how we arrived where we are at this moment in time, to learn the lessons that we need to know to prevent us from making the same mistakes again and again.
To change pupils and student’s attitudes, I need them to trust me, I need to have a receptive attitude toward them and have to allow them to be more active. This motivates me, but when I go home I am exhausted. The challenge remains how to present the subject matter and how to explain this. It gives great pleasure to see how children that weren’t used to talk, asking for more tasks. This is a hopeful sign. What we need to progress now is a social and cultural emancipation of our people. That’s what I am convinced of.
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Lionel Janga is an inspiring, multi-faceted, well-read scholar, resilient and patient teacher, mentor, artist, musician, author, and advocate of the rehabilitation of Tula. Being a (spacial) planner by profession over the years of his career Lionel has been involved with multiple positions as a supervisor, advisor, and enabler of developments in different sectors of Planning, the Cultural sector, our Cultural heritage, the Environment, and for his life’s work up to now, he was honored with ‘Krus di Mérito’ in 2020. What makes Lionel stand out is his style of work, which is humbleness, as he works in silence and takes on a backstage role in dealing with the different areas he is involved in. What makes him stand otherwise in terms of the required change in the country is his advocacy in underwriting the need for our society to deal with what, the late Prof. Dr. Yandi Paula said almost 60 years ago. That we need to free ourselves from “subjective” barriers that lots of us of Afro-African descent still carry with us, like a lack of self-worth. As a visionary, he firmly believes that we have to rid ourselves of those subjective barriers first to achieve real progress, that is sustainable, where collaboration happens genuinely. For all these reasons, we consider Lionel one of the 250 Influencers of our society, representing the “Cultural and Plannings”-sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.
The goal of the core group of Share2Uplift for 2022
The goal of the Share2Uplift movement is to: “Identify 250 leaders from all walks of life to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life, which includes intergenerational collaboration by the end of 2022.” We will use interviewing Influencers, meet-and-greet events, “train-the-trainers”-programs on “Emotional Mastery” and “Intentionality “as national intervention strategies, to reach this goal on top of our goal to scale up the possibilities to connect, align and create impact via a virtual platform. We believe that by collaborating with Miguel Goede on the virtual Vision 2030 platform, we will accelerate the possibilities to connect the diaspora and others elsewhere in the world and on the island willing to constructively create impactful changes in Curaçao, to join.
As Share2Uplift, we are fully trying to align with this thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign to promote this agenda in our educational systems and workplace. So, in that sense, we fully support any initiative to make our educational system 21st-century proof.
Share2Uplift aligners are those that:
– Create an inspiring vision of the future;
– Motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision;
– Manage the delivery of the vision;
– Coach and build a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. These criteria are now being polished.
We also consider these 5 values the most important ones for Share2Uplift aligners. They are:
• Peace from within;
As we will progress towards this goal, we will update you on the progress.
This week we will share some short videos on “Awareness”. We will upload one of these videos every day on our facebook.com/share2uplift page.
Yubi Kirindongo – YouTube
Wist jij dit over de tot slaafgemaakte Tula? | Samenleving – YouTube
(9) Facebook Yubi Kiridongo
Atardi, Rudy Plaate Official Trailer (2020) – YouTube
World Heritage City Willemstad – Punda – YouTube
Curaçao monument Tula (Drone overview) – YouTube