Meron Benti is a senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA where she studies Anthropology with minors in French and African Studies. She is originally from Ethiopia but has also lived in Italy and Oakland, California. We are honoured to have chatted with her about her life, a youth summit she recently hosted for people with albinism in Kenya and what she hopes changes for people with albinism.
Tell us a bit about Amani for People with Albinism, what inspired you to start the organization, and where do you see it going?
Amani for People with albinism (APWA) is an empowerment program for youth with albinism that features personal and professional development workshops and which aims to inspire self-confidence and self-advocacy thus promoting more positive awareness on PWA.. The project was inspired by an American youth empowerment summer camp called Global Youth Peace Summit. APWA hosted its first summit in August of 2018 in Meru, Kenya and seeks to host similar programs in the coming years in different African countries as well to serve and inspire as many youth with albinism as possible.
What challenges were you looking to address with the youth summit and what has the event taught you about young people with albinism?
The Summit in Kenya was aimed to create a space for young PWA to heal and move past traumas, to become more self-aware and self-confident and to have the professional skills needed to succeed in school or the job market. This event has made me more aware of further challenges that young people with Albinism in Kenya and generally in Africa as well face such as the erroneous common belief that PWA need to be schooled in schools for the blind, thus limiting the socialization of PWA with the rest of their community. In future summits APWA hopes to address this challenge as well by encouraging youth to spread the knowledge that PWA can and should go to regular schools as well.
In what ways has your journey with having albinism informed your work with Amani and any other causes – related to albinism – you champion?
Growing up my family always treated me like they treated any other member, I was raised to believe that I was as capable as any other person and as I result I never let my visual impairment stop me from what I wanted to get. I think I am where I am today thanks and despite of my albinism, in a way growing up it caused me a lot of pain as I had to grow up abroad away from my parents, but it also opened many doors to me like the ability to receive good quality education. I hope to use all the resources that are always available to me to spread more positive awareness about this condition and to advocate for the empowerment of other PWAs.
What is the one thing you hope changes in our lifetime for people with albinism?
I really hope the killings in several Sub-Saharan African countries of persons with albinism end. It is atrocious that to this day such beliefs are still prevalent.
What are you hoping young people with albinism take away from your story?
I hope young people with albinism can be inspired to use the tools, resources, and networks of people available to them to advocate for the betterment of perspectives on people with albinism. I hope they also themselves become more aware of the ways in which they can turn the challenges of being a person with albinism into opportunities for growth.