Harry Freeland reflects on the events of an incredible fortnight on Ukrewe Island
Deep in the heart of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, the island is in many ways the birthplace of our organisation: the location for much of my documentary, In the Shadow of the Sun, and a hub for Standing Voice's frontline services in Skin Cancer Prevention, Vision Care, and Education.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in Tanzania, or Africa, Ukerewe has been the target of sensationalist press around this issue: mystified by the media as a ‘sanctuary’ for people with albinism, a safe haven away from the discrimination of the mainland, where security can be found in numbers.
The reality is that Ukerewe has a deep and long history of discrimination against people with albinism. When I first arrived in 2006 I found unfathomable stigma: people abused and abandoned by their families, locked out of employment, dying of skin cancer. Some were forced to eat away from others, with separate bowls and utensils.
To bridge this divide and build a platform for reintegration, Standing Voice established the Umoja Training Centre in 2016: a community training facility providing skills development and economic enrichment to people with albinism and their friends, families, and wider community members on Ukerewe; a second chance for so many people with albinism who lost out on education in childhood.
In June, Standing Voice launched its inaugural Summer Skills Workshop: an integrated training programme, based at the Umoja Training Centre, helping the community to develop skills and pursue income-generating opportunities and pathways of professional development. Over six days, we brought together renowned artists, actors, researchers, broadcasters, photographers, tailors and musicians, and connected these professionals to people with albinism and their peers on Ukerewe.
85 people received specialist training, and hundreds more attended our International Albinism Awareness Day celebrations on June 13. All workshop participants received one-on-one health consultations too.
Because of these workshops, six brand new income-generating and community groups have been established on Ukerewe Island. To read about each, you can follow the links below, or click the boxes in our newsletter:
The Upendo Printers (Printing)
The Tunajitambua Tailors (Tailoring)
The Umoja Photographers (Photography)
The Hadithi Group (Storytelling & Performance)
The Young Reporters (Radio)
The Undaji Club (Arts & Crafts)
The works these groups have created—bags, dresses, prints, paintings—will soon be available for sale through the Standing Voice website. Watch this space!
The centre will train thousands of people in the years ahead, arming this community with the tools to determine its own future.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped to make the first Summer Skills Workshop such a resounding success: our volunteers from across Tanzania, Europe, and the U.S.; our wonderful translators Yohanna, Sophia, Maria, Lydia and Karen; the Standing Voice teams, in Tanzania and the UK; and of course, the people of Ukerewe, without whom none of this would be possible.
If you know someone with a skill to share—or would just like to help make positive changes in the lives of people with albinism and their families—contact us for more information on firstname.lastname@example.org. With your help, the Summer Skills Workshop can be bigger and better than ever when it returns in 2018.
Image credited to Harry Freeland