Meron Benti ’19 and Philitricia Baraza ’18 directed the first Amani for People with Albinism (APWA) summit last month, aimed to empower Kenyan youth with albinism.
With help from a Projects for Peace grant of $10,000, and a further $2,000 raised by Benti and Baraza themselves, the pair were able to host 25 participants ages 19-27, for a week-long program from Aug. 17-24 in the small town of Meru, Kenya.
The inspiration for this event came from a summit Benti attended as a high schooler called the Global Youth Peace Summit, which focused on personal development and confidence building by examining one’s own identity. Benti, who is originally from Ethiopia, worked with Baraza, from Kenya, to create a summit with similar goals to the Global Youth Peace Summit.
During the first few days, participants examined albinism through a biological and social lens in an effort to understand albinism as a condition and its misconceptions. They examined the discrimination and derogatory language that people with albinism often face with an emphasis on forgiveness and letting go.
Benti said they also talked about names and the idea of semantics. “It’s the fact that sometimes we have a name that is given to us, that does not reflect who we are,” she said.
They then discussed how their albinism does not define their identity.
“We talked about the fact that we shouldn’t define ourselves as albino, that we are people with albinism, we are not just albinos, so it goes beyond our condition,” Benti said. “We are humans and we just have a condition called albinism.”
The focus on personal development concluded with a session led by a guest speaker who discussed the idea of stereotypes and how to break them.
The rest of the week focused on professional development. Activities included practice in resume building, interviewing, business communication and entrepreneurship. Guest speakers with albinism spoke about their experiences in the professional world in order to show participants how successful people with albinism can be.
Benti and Baraza hoped that the participants would find peace within themselves and become more confident.
“Lack of melanin is not a lack of ability, knowledge or skills,” Benti said. “It’s the fact that yes we are people with albinism but [we] are not limited to anything.”
While organizing the summit was challenging, Benti hopes to organize another next summer. Her friend Alyne Goncalves ’19, who also attended the summit to interview participants, is working on a documentary about the lives and perspectives of people with albinism, which they hope will be finished early next year.