Playing with the kids after the last day of work in Mwanza (videos below) was a big moment for me. For the first time on the trip, I feel like I completely saw past the color of their skin. I forgot everything about albinism and poor vision. On the field, we were all people, just playing, singing, and dancing. No doctor or student, American or African, yellow or black or white. And there was something so profound and beautiful in that. I felt ashamed at my subtle discrimination, how I identified children by their condition even though I should know better.
In that moment, I could clearly see their dignity as human beings made in God’s image. That is what the country needs to see for themselves, though their prejudices are deeply engrained and reinforced by lies. Part of the problem is that PWAs surely believe they are inherently inferior because that’s how they have been treated their whole lives. Now I better understand what UTSS is trying to accomplish and how hard it will be. I'm reminded of the people with illnesses in the Bible who were thought to be unclean. Through physical healing, Jesus also gave them spiritual and social healing.
I went on the trip expecting to understand the full gravity of the situation in Tanzania. Back at home, I could see pictures, watch videos, and read articles about the terrible things that happened to children with albinism, but it always seemed a world away. An unexpected reality check came during the morning of departure when I saw the news of the shooting in Colorado. It reminded me that life is precious and time is fleeting.
Even after working with the children, however, it was easy to forget why UTSS has to place them in protected schools. And that's the point - the threat of mutilation and murder has been removed. I did not witness the fear of a gang with machetes coming in the middle of the night. Nor did I see discrimination against PWAs, who are considered the lowest members of society. I knew these things existed in my mind, but what I experienced first-hand did not match. Only when I came across the few students with machete scars or missing limbs did the danger become tangible. Then I could more deeply connect with UTSS's mission and understand how essential each component of their program is.
Their scholarship fund takes PWAs through school so they can become educated, working members of society. Healthcare supports this endeavor by removing barriers to learning. There is also the task of educating the public and correcting widely held myths through literature and other media. In the end, I had mixed emotions about where our team and I fit into the bigger picture. I felt indispensable at times as a highly educated doctor-to-be from the States. Sometimes I swayed to the other end of the spectrum and felt overwhelmed and useless when I thought about how much time and work it would take to change, in some sense, a whole country. I'm trying to maintain a balanced perspective instead of these extreme. I may play a small role in the grand scheme of things, but that role is important and necessary. I should not and cannot do nothing just because I can't do everything.