It’s been over a decade since Lynne and I first decided to write this story, but to us it’s more than just a book. We know the plight of albinos isn't fiction. There are people who live in fear every day because of superstitions. We’ve had a number of readers ask what they can do to help these people, so Lisa recently reached out to a non-profit that works with albinos in Tanzania, Under The Same Sun.
Peter Ash, the Founder and CEO of this non-profit, says. “I have a dream that one day people with albinism will take their rightful place throughout every level of society, and that the days of discrimination against persons with albinism will be a faint memory.”
The goal of Under the Same Sun (UTSS) is to work to change attitudes and behaviors toward people with albinism, beginning in Tanzania. They do this through education, teaching people with albinism their rights and how to take care of health issues, and ensuring they have access to education.
Don Sawatzky, Director of Operations with Under The Same Sun recently spoke with us about this work. Here’s what he had to say.
LISA: Thanks so much for talking with us today, Don. Can you give us a brief overview of what Under the Same Sun is involved in and why it exists?
DON: Under The Same Sun helps people with albinism overcome often deadly discrimination through education and advocacy. Our Education Program provides people with albinism in Tanzania a high quality education in a safe, inclusive environment where their low-vision, health needs and other needs are also met. Our Advocacy and Public Awareness program educates people on the truths about albinism and fights for the inclusive human rights of people with albinism in Tanzania, at the UN and in many other countries. We have offices in Vancouver, Canada and Dar es Salaam , Tanzania.
LISA: How long have you been involved in Under the Same Sun and what was your motivation to become a part of this organization.
DON: I was the first full time employee at UTSS and have travelled with Peter Ash to Tanzania and beyond since our first trip in October of 2008. Peter Ash is a person with albinism and my personal friend and so I understand albinism at a personal level. I have also worked with human suffering all my adult life and care about how PWA have suffered at the hands of those living close to them.
LISA: The plight of the African albino weighs heavily upon our hearts. While we have tried to raise awareness, what do you find is the most effective method?
DON: We believe that advocacy and education are most effective and have made them our mandate; the more up close and personal the message, the more powerful the effect. “Education is our greatest 'weapon' against discrimination and our most powerful source of advocating a culture towards change.” An educated person with albinism taking their rightful place in society is by far the most persuasive message of all.
LISA: What are the greatest needs of albinos?
DON: To break all the mythology and misunderstanding that surrounds them and simply be accepted as a normal every day human being just like everyone else. They are not more special or more cursed than anyone else. They are not ghosts and they are not gods; they’re just people who happen to have a genetic condition. This is why we use the term PERSON with albinism or PWA instead of albino. They are a person first, not a genetic condition first.
LISA: Can you share with us a personal example of how your organization is making a difference?
DON: UTSS cares for disadvantaged students with albinism in Tanzania, placing them in select boarding schools, where they are protected, integrated, and provided with the tools they need to learn. People with albinism, with the help of our donors, can complete any level of schooling from primary school to PhD. We've helped over 400 students in our education program since 2010 with over 85 graduates. After grad we offer vocational training and ensure career placement. We have a dream that one day people with albinism will take their rightful place throughout every level of society, and that the days of discrimination against persons with albinism will be a faint memory.
LISA: Thank you so much, Don, for taking the time to talk with us. For those of you reading this interview, if you want to learn more about this amazing non-profit, please visit their website for an overview of not only what they are involved in, but photos and extensive information on the difficult issues facing albinos.