23 Oct Sun Hats & Smiles at Albino Peacemakers!
The Media Team has nearly completed the first visit on their Tour of Tanzania, gathering stories and connecting with the Lahash partners and kids across the country. There is a lot of good news to report from Arusha at Albino Peacemakers!
On our first full day in Tanzania, the Media Team walked into church Sunday morning to see three front rows full of kids with floppy hats. Sun hats are the signature look for kids with albinism, because exposure to the sun causes blisters, painful sores, and even skin cancer in children. As the kids sat waiting for the service to start, they looked a little bit nervous. But mostly they just chatted quietly with their friends, looking healthy, happy, and ready to sing!
Their little choir had been invited to the church as special guests. Sister Martha Mganga, the founder of Albino Peacemakers, had been invited to give the sermon.
In a culture where people with albinism face serious stigma, discrimination, and abuse, it was obvious that the efforts of Albino Peacemakers have made a big difference in the local perception of this condition. For people with albinism, being the center of others’ attention is often a negative or traumatizing experience. But on Sunday, the kids were up in front of everyone, singing and dancing with joy, sharing God’s truth with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Sister Martha was received with respect and admiration as she shared the Word of God. After church, a special meal was prepared for the children to thank them for coming.
It was encouraging to see the children looking so healthy and strong, confident enough to enjoy their time in the spotlight. Over the next few days of our visit with Albino Peacemakers, this theme was consistent.
We visited Arusha School, where we saw the children with albinism attending class with their peers. The school is open and accepting of the children, making accommodations for them so they can learn well. Albinism causes significant vision problems, so the students with albinism have to sit very close to the front of the room in order to see the lessons on the blackboard. They also have to play in the shade during breaks, so their skin is protected from the sun. Rather than shunning or making fun of them, we saw the other students embracing them.
At lunchtime, the cafeteria was as loud and chaotic as you would expect. As the kids found seats with their friends, the floppy hats were spread around throughout the room, interspersed with everyone else. The same was true in the dorms. They were excited to show us where they sleep, spread throughout large rooms full of bunk beds for the boarding students. There are matrons (house parents) who care for the boarding students when they are not in class. One of the matrons at Arusha School also has albinism, so there is an adult on site who is very familiar with the issues they face. These kids came from extremely difficult circumstances before being connected with Sister Martha, and now they have caring adults who are tuned into their unique needs, and yet they are also “just like everyone else.” This balance creates space for them to thrive.
This balance has been achieved through the hard work of Sister Martha, her assistant Mariam Munga, and other advocates on their team. The children may not be aware of all the effort that is expended on their behalf, but they certainly know how much they are loved by Sister Martha and Mariam. Every time these two women arrive to see the kids, they are enveloped by warm greetings, hugs, questions, stories, and a handful of the littlest ones who just want to snuggle in for a bit. In their words and their presence, these women make it clear that the kids are their top priority. Whether it is for singing, games, crafts, or simply checking in on them to see how they are doing, the message that comes across is, “You are seen. You are special. You are important. You are loved.”
Much work remains to be done on their behalf, as their needs at home and at school are great. But the foundation of love is set, and it is strong enough for these kids to build a healthy life with a hope-filled future.