During our fieldwork in Tanzania in 2019 for the Mothering and Albinism project, we heard repeatedly that faith leaders have a great influence in their community in providing support, education, and advocacy.
A Muslim faith leader stated that “religious leaders already have the mandate to go deeper into all segments of the society…they are listened to and people take it from them. They are opinion shapers. What they say people ascribe to… So even before the government comes in, religion is the first priority, then politics.”
Some Faith Leaders who participated in our study expressed a desire to better understand albinism, the experience of mothers and families impacted by albinism, and how best to support from their positions of influence. As we explored possible knowledge mobilization activities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we were keen to engage with Faith Leaders, building on ongoing partnerships and connections within Tanzania, including team member Perpetua Senkoro. We wanted to tap into the enthusiasm communicated to us by Faith Leaders who we met during our 2019 fieldwork.
A planning group was struck with Tanzanian and Canadian partners: Perpetua Senkoro (Knowledge Translation Facilitator, TZ), Kondo Seif (Knowledge Translation Facilitator, TZ), Reverend Cannon Thomas Godda (Executive Director, Interreligious Council for Peace, TZ), Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham (Project Lead, CA), Barbara Astle (Project Co-Lead, CA), Emma Strobell (Project Coordinator, CA), and Meghann Buyco (Graduate Research Assistant, CA). The networks of Perpetua and Kondo in the albinism advocacy community, Rev. Godda in the interreligious leaders community, and the project connection with Upendo wa Mamas meant we were able to bring a diverse group of voices to the table.
Although our preference would have been in-person meetings, we planned and hosted a very successful online Faith Leaders’ Summit in Tanzania. From November 2021 to January 2022, we conducted four consecutive virtual (Zoom) interreligious Faith Leaders’ Summits, held in Swahili (with English translation by Tanzanian colleagues). Perpetua Senkoro served as Moderator. She was the right person to lead the Summit, herself as a woman with albinism and as a human rights officer. As Rev. Godda observed, “she was an encouragement to mamas and to religious leaders”. Likewise, it was fitting for a person with albinism (Kondo Seif) to teach the biological and genetic causes of albinism.
In total, twenty-nine Muslim and Christian faith leaders from Mwanza, Dar es Salam and Shinyanga were present during the Summit. They were joined by nine mothers from Upendo wa Mamas, a support and income generating group of women impacted by albinism. Having the Mamas participate in the sessions to offer ongoing counsel to the faith leaders about their lived experience reflected the project’s inclusivity and gave the women impacted by albinism an opportunity to share their views and concerns as the central subject matter. They contributed to all aspects of the Summit, including drafting the Faith Leaders’ Statement. (see previous blog here)
During the four summits, the Muslim and Christian faith leaders together with the Mamas engaged in fruitful discussions, drawing from holy scriptures and faith-based practices, to devise best practices to promote the rights of persons with albinism. Each Summit had guest speakers and group dialogue on focused topics.
Summit #1, November 27, 2021 “Mothers impacted by albinism”
Summit #2, December 5, 2021 “The role of faith leaders”
Summit #3, January 8, 2022 “Foundations of faith communities’ responses”
Summit #4, January 22, 2022 “Collective action”
At Summit #3, Marco Methuselah (St. Paul Theological Seminary, Mwanza TZ) and Sheikh Kabeke (Mwanza TZ) presented on faith teachings and their experiences in supporting the rights of persons with albinism. Kondo Seif, who has conducted many community education seminars on Understanding Albinism across the years and throughout Tanzania, reflected on the value-added of these faith teachings, with their moral weight (suasion) added to scientific knowledge about the genetic cause of albinism and the lived experience of living with albinism. Both Faith Leaders emphasized the guidance found within the holy books (Bible, Quran), with teaching about the inherent value of humans as created by God/Allah, and the many teachings against discrimination and harm. (See Executive Summary).
At Summit #4, Ikponwosa Ero (Director, Human Rights Advocacy for Under the Same Sun, Technical Adviser, Africa Albinism Network, and former UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism) spoke about the relevance of the Faith Leaders’ Summit to promoting the human rights of persons with albinism. Referencing the 2017 UN Beirut Declaration on Faith and Human Rights, Ero called on faith leaders to strategically use their moral and spiritual authority to intervene and strengthen the protection of the universal human rights.
She held up the Faith Leaders’ Summit (and Statement) as concrete examples for other countries to follow.
The Summit led to a joint Faith Leaders’ Statement in which they have committed to denounce all forms of stigma and promote peace and love for persons living with albinism. The Statement includes calls to government, faith leaders, communities, and persons with albinism. Two emissaries presented the Statement to the Tanzanian government’s Director of Disability in Dodoma on February 7, 2022. A media event was hosted on February 22nd in Mwanza to present the Faith Leaders’ Statement.
Swahili version available here.
Dr. Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham, Project Lead
Meghann Buyco, Graduate Research Assistant
Dr. Barbara Astle, Project Co-lead
Emma Strobell, Research Associate
Perpetua Senkoro (Knowledge Translation Facilitator, TZ)
Reverend Cannon Thomas Godda (Executive Director, Interreligious Council for Peace, TZ)
Kondo Seif (Knowledge Translation Facilitator, TZ)