As human beings, storytelling is in our blood; whether verbal or visual, through words, pictures or movement, it is the thread connecting generations in communities throughout the world. Woven into these shared narratives are our histories, hopes, ideas and identities.
When planning the Summer Skills Workshop, we knew the events had to leave behind more than improved skill sets. We wanted to change the underlying prejudices and misconceptions that are at the root of so many challenges faced by people with albinism. To foster new understanding, we turned to old methods; storytelling, which has for centuries collected and combined the threads of society, seemed a powerful way to make such fundamental changes.
The story of the workshop began in a bare, white room in the Umoja Training Centre. Mothers, babies, children and elders gathered to share their experiences of albinism. The stories that emerged were as diverse as the participants themselves: some uplifting, describing a family rallying around a vulnerable child; some sobering, outlining the debilitating and all too familiar effects of stigma.
From these open and honest conversations, the group was able to construct a true-to-life portrait of the perception of albinism in their community. The next step was to translate it into drama. Slowly, a narrative came together, jotted down on flipchart paper, moving into dance and song when words were not enough. It took the form of a fluid series of scenes depicting the life of one man with albinism. In one scene, a father abandoned his wife after their newborn baby was born with albinism.
Fast-forward, and the baby was shown as an adult man, rejected by the family of his girlfriend for the colour of his skin. As painful as the story was, it is the reality faced by many people with albinism in Tanzania. The plot had been woven out of the heartfelt stories of trial and trauma shared during the workshop, and the result was simple, undiluted truth.
Like any story, it would of course not be complete until it was shared. And so the group brought their work into the community, holding spontaneous open-air dramatic performances that captivated the attention of all who watched. Onlookers were encouraged to make the performance interactive, shouting advice to the protagonist and expressing their unmediated reactions as events played out before them. This was neither a top-down distribution of information, nor an enforcement of airbrushed, rigid principles.
The interjections from onlookers were given without filter or pretence, sometimes providing sobering windows into the prejudice that still persists on Ukerewe. However, as the discussions ran deeper, dynamics began to change. More and more, voices were raised in support of the protagonist, calling on his girlfriend's family to accept him and allow him a chance of love. By the time the performance concluded, the man had almost the entire community behind him.
The story, however, does not end there. What follows will be a continuing push to make irreversible changes to the narratives surrounding albinism in Tanzania.
This workshop proved that storytelling is not simply a repository of communal history, but a tool for progress, enabling those who have been marginalised to build brighter futures, and change their own stories forever.
All images credited to Harry Freeland and Josh Beattie. Go here for a full list of credits.