Change from within – The story of Jayne Waithera and Samuel Odwar
Exclusion, marginalization and discrimination. For Jayne Waithera this is part of daily life.
Jayne was born with albinism, a condition caused by the absence of pigment of the skin, hair and eyes. After her mother left her when Jayne was still a toddler, she grew up with her grandmother in a small village in Kenya. Being the only person with albinism in her community, she was left alone facing prejudice and discrimination. Due to the lack of information on the condition, myths and superstitious beliefs within Kenya and other Eastern African countries, people with albinism are believed to be cursed. Those affected by the condition are exposed to discrimination, isolation, poverty and have to live with the danger of being hunted and murdered.
In 2009, Jayne decided that she would no longer accept this injustice of forcefully having to live as an outcast in her own society. She chose to join kanthari – a 7 month leadership training program for people who carry a plan for social change.
At kanthari, individuals who have overcome life challenges – be it disability, poverty, war, discrimination or exploitation – learn to create powerful change within their community and beyond. Among a group of passionate individuals from all over the world, Jayne was taught methods, techniques and theories that were relevant for her social dream. Through various case studies, experiential learning and exposure visits, Jayne and the other participants prepared themselves to start their own initiatives.
Upon completion of the course, Jayne returned to Kenya where she co-founded her own organization “Positive Exposure”. Positive exposure aims to protect the rights of persons living with albinism and strive to change the mindsets of the community members. Through the use of photo exhibitions, public seminars and community dialogue, she creates awareness and understanding among communities. At the same time, people affected by the condition are given training and skills that enables them to lead independent lives. In 2015, Jayne was awarded the prestigious Mandela Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Jayne dreams of a future where people are treated equally with respect and dignity, and for every day that goes by, she is working hard to make this dream a reality.
Another kanthari is Samuel Odwar from Uganda. He too faced extreme hardship in life.
When Samuel was 18 years old, he was kidnapped by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militant movement led by Joseph Kony. Through forcefully murdering people with disabilities, the future child soldiers were supposed to learn the process of killing. Samuel, was ordered to kill a paralyzed woman but when he refused to do so, he was taken to be shot by another young boy. Luckily, however, he managed to escape.
Struck by this incident, he decided that he wanted to work with- and for people that have disabilities and are being marginalized in society. He soon began studying Special Needs Education and became a teacher for children with physical handicaps.
Years later, his first child was infected by malaria and became deaf at the age of only two months. When the community turned its back on him, and his wife left him alone with the baby, he was forced to quit his job in order to take care of his son. This experience transformed him and he began visiting churches to speak to communities and create awareness among people. Eventually his wife decided to withstand the social pressure, come back to him and their child to support Samuel in pursuing his social mission.
Today, Samuel is the director and founder of “Thumbs Up Uganda”, an organization that fights superstitious beliefs towards people who have disabilities and that advocates for an inclusive community. His organization works with the parents of children with disabilities and empowers them to express the uniqueness of their children.
Samuel too, was a kanthari participant. Since 2009 kanthari has trained 160 participants from 38 countries. This has resulted in more than 125 active social initiatives and organizations reaching thousands of beneficiaries. This number is growing each year, as new social change makers graduate from the kanthari course.
Do you carry a plan for social change and are looking for a place to acquire the skills and tools needed to turn your dream into reality?
Or are you interested to learn more about other kanthari graduates and their projects, then you are very welcome to visit www.kanthari.org
- Blog post submitted by Soni Resal, intake coordinator