Since we moved to Mwanza, we are developing relationships in a rural area about one hour north of town, a place called Magu District. Fred has been working there with his albinism awareness project, and we decided that our family Christmas distribution would be in that area. Two of Fred’s colleagues helped us identify families. Pendo is a woman with albinism who is a volunteer community advocate with a touching personal story, and Joseph was disabled early in life when he lost both his hands and forearms falling into a fire. They introduced us to five families they are serving.
First was a family in which the grandmother has albinism. About two years ago she fled her home for fear of violence against her. All of her other children have died, so she came to her last remaining daughter. Her son-in-law did not like her there and abandoned the family. The family of five are subsistence level farmers, like many in rural Tanzania.
At the next home we found the family eating, a very awkward time to arrive socially, but helpful for us to see what they have available to them. This mother lost the use of her legs as a young girl, and she and her husband are supporting their four children on a small piece of land. They were eating their main meal for the day out of the pots in which it had been cooked. Rice, oil, beans, sugar, salt, oil and tea made a huge difference to this family for their Christmas celebration.
The next man we met has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. His family moves him to the shady tree in front of the local church (which is very shiny, made of new iron sheets), where he spends the day chatting with passersby.
After four hours mostly in the car, Wesley and Inno took the opportunity to climb some rocks at the next house. This widow lost her husband when some neighbors from their village came to kill her albino son. Her husband defended the boy with his life. She fled with her children, who range in age from teenagers to toddlers, to the nearest town where they live in two rooms together. Gretchen distributed the sugar cookies that she and her brothers had decorated to her age mates. These little boys are just a few months younger than our giant almost-3-year-old. We try to take our kids on field work whenever it is possible. Lately Wesley has been asking a lot of questions about “poor kids” and we’re trying to walk the balance between him being aware of how much he has, but not seeing that relative wealth as something that should separate him from other kids.
We next visited a man named Pascal who is also living with albinism. He lives alone, but was looking forward to a visit from his daughter for Christmas the next day, so he was happy to have something to share with them. He shared a few stories about the medical problems he faces and losing his life savings of $30 to an unscrupulous brother. His arms are covered with scratches and scars from the hard labor of moving stones and bricks at construction sites, work that keeps him out in the hot sun much more than his condition permits.
Six hours into this adventure, we had energy for only one more house. This woman is a neighbor of Pendo’s, and also lives with albinism. In the very brief time we were in the dark, crowded single room she shares with her daughters, she showed us a photo of her at her sister’s burial. Her sister was killed when they were teenagers by men who had come to kill the girl with albinism. It was obvious that the burden of her sister’s death still sits heavily. Fred and I this home wondering how his trauma healing program might be initiated for the people living with albinism and the family members who have suffered violence on their behalf.
We were remaining with three more food bundles, which Joseph took responsibility for. He had three other families in mind, and spent the afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve ensuring that those families received our gifts. He and Pendo identified these families and facilitated our welcome into their homes, and are serving them all year round. We also owe thanks to our friends the Kenyamanyaras, a Kenyan/Canadian family in Mwanza, who contributed to the distribution. They also joined us for a Christmas lunch of rice and beans. It seemed right to eat the same food for Christmas as the families we’d met the day before.