For some, clothes are accessories; on Ukerewe, they’re a lifeline
In Tanzania, it is not just people with albinism who face stigma, but their families and loved ones too. When a baby with albinism is born, the mother is almost universally ‘blamed’. Fathers regularly walk out and never return: the child’s skin colour at best a sign of adultery; at worst, a curse from God. In some cases, fathers have been direct perpetrators of witchcraft-related violence against their own children. Mothers are regularly ostracised by the wider community, forced to provide for themselves and their children alone.
During the Summer Skills Workshop, a group of people with albinism—and mothers of babies with albinism—were invited to take part in a tailoring workshop at the Umoja Training Centre. Under the experienced hand of local professional tailor Ivona Balige, the group were taught how to design, tailor, and market clothes.
However, it soon became clear that this workshop had ramifications beyond business acumen. As the reams of fabric were sewn into vibrantly-coloured skirts, shirts, purses and dresses, the confidence of the tailors grew too. Some participants had never before had the opportunity to learn a craft, or develop skills they could use to support themselves and their families. Now, as clothes took shape under careful hands, so too did the possibility of a sustainable income for years ahead.
Quickly, the group showed they meant business— real business, and a lot of it. Together, they brainstormed items of clothing that might sell well locally, or nationwide, or both. The result was a shrewd and ambitious business plan; the only thing missing was the clothes!
Particularly inspiring were the examples of Charles and Florentina, two residents of Ukerewe already running prosperous tailoring enterprises. Both have albinism. As prior recipients of Standing Voice’s enterprise grants, Charles and Florentine set a standard for the budding tailors around them; both moved between rows of sewing machines and piles of fabric with advice, instruction, and a discerning and experienced eye: living proof that with determination and support, prejudice need not be a barrier to success.
Thanks to the workshop, Charles Kariro, Florentina Ngoroma, Neema Kajanja, Frola Kalugendo, Gaudensia Kampala, Anteti Tegeja and Anastazia Gerald have been born as the Tunajitambua tailors. Their name is drawn from a Swahili word which translates in English to ‘We Know Ourselves'. In the Umoja Training Centre, their enterprise has a space to take root and grow, under the continued mentorship of group leaders Charles and Florentina. By building an independent and successful enterprise, they hope to show their community, and the world, that they will never be silenced, and their voices will always stand.
All images credited to Harry Freeland.