Tanzania Summer Camp 2019 Trip Report
On Friday, Meg, Sophie myself and four others from Jericho Ridge returned from a two-week service and learning trip to Tanzania with Under The Same Sun. We went there to facilitate a summer camp for children with albinism which is a genetic condition that results in a lack of pigment in the skin which results in life-threatening discrimination and isolation for people in East Africa.
This being my 8th time to Tanzania in 8 years, you’d think that it would get “easier” but I’m not sure struggling for justice for an entire people group who have been marginalized for generations ever gets “easy”. Hearing stories of those who have survived attacks or attempted abductions and the physical and social discrimination that are ongoing in Tanzanian society never gets an easier for me and I’m not sure I want it to.
Yet despite the emotional and spiritual and financial costs, I count it one of the great privileges of my life to stand with people with albinism in Tanzania who are working toward the day when the attacks and discrimination will be a faint memory.
How Does Summer Camp Fit Into This?
One of the great gifts that summer camp gives these kids is a chance to be a kid. To have fun and make friends in an environment that is totally safe and is customized for their low vision. To see them come alive in chapel times and dancing with passion and pure joy at the front in the local church is to witness a transformation in process. These are the same kids who eight years ago were so traumatized would not look me in the eyes when I would speak with them. Now, they want to argue with me in Bible class on a finer point of theology or they want to volunteer to write an original song or poem and perform it at a talent show in front of more than 200 people. We are seeing a slow but incredible transformation in the lives of these kids as we continue to walk with them and as they mature into amazing young adults.
Summer Camp provides both a venue to showcase what is already going on but also an opportunity to further train and develop these students. Whether it is in arts class (Sophie was a rock-star helping kids paint and draw) or drama class (Ruth Ellen was amazing in drawing out vivaciousness in all who came around her) or in karate (John was so good at using sport to help teach self-confidence and respect for others), or music class the kids really camp alive when they were given the chance.
There were other venues where we delivered content that our kids need as they mature and grow. Whether it was science class (we taught on healthy relationships and sexuality) or career class (where we helped to shape their vocational direction), we are providing the input that parents would normally give to these kids, many of whom are functionally orphaned.
Orbiting around the classes, there were also some significant moments of ministry
- Church visits – We were able to visit the two main churches that our Tanzanian volunteers come from. Peter and I shared the preaching responsibilities for 5 services over two Sundays, including a 6 AM start time.
- Logistics – scheduling summer camp is like a massive puzzle and Brady did a spectacular job keeping everything running smoothly.
- Prayer Counselling – Meg was involved in prayer ministry with a number of students
- who were struggling in various areas. She always says that she feels like she is mothering the 181 students who came to camp.
- Deliverance Ministry – several of the kids are demonized because of family involvements in witchcraft and so God allowed us to pray and bring freedom to them.
- Evangelism – We were able to present a clear and resounding call to faith and several people responded and trusted Christ for the first time with their lives.
- Capacity building – We were also able to spend some time investing in the UTSS staff and local church volunteers. Our heart’s desire and passion to see the local church take over this kind of initiative in the long-run and we are seeing that occur.
My big take-away from this trip is that we are making progress and so there is reason for cautious celebration. Each year, people with albinism are making measured but deliberate strides toward taking their rightful place in every level of society. Slowly but surely, we are seeing stigma decrease and negative attitudes change as clear and accurate information about albinism is distributed throughout the culture. We are seeing kids with albinism graduate at the head of their classes and get clarity on their future and begin to deal with some of the impacts of their past. The past is bleak but the future is looking brighter for people with albinism in Tanzania. So I can’t wait to see where these kids will be in another eight years!