Turning ‘Others’ into Brothers through music
Healing a broken relationship between people with albinism and those without the condition by discovering our shared humanity
There is something innately unifying about music. From the various sounds, rhythms and musical notes, harmony and unity emerge and extend to the hearts of the listeners, encircling them in one accord. Famous American singer-songwriter Billy Joel once said: “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” The harmony of music transcends divisions and borders, and in doing so, unifies and heals the listeners.
Our Chapter Leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elesse Bafandjo, experienced this first hand when he organized a concert for people with albinism and non-albinos this past May. As a note, the term “people with albinism” is in fact preferred over “albinos,” as it puts the people ahead of their condition, as is pointed out by the organization, People with Albinism: Not Ghosts but Human Beings. Discrimination towards those with albinism is prevalent in the DRC, as ignorance perpetuates the belief that albinism is a curse or that body parts can be used for black magic. As a result, those with the condition are abused, marginalized, feared and even killed. Albinism is a relatively rare occurrence, resulting from a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, although it is more prevalent in Africa than in North America or Europe. For example, 1 in 1,400 people in Tanzania have the condition, and they are amongst the most vulnerable group of people. Elesse envisioned using music as a way to bring people with albinism together with those who had misconceptions about the condition to restore their relationship. So he organized a concert in Kinshasa, his hometown!
Prior to the concert, Elesse had met with community members who believed that they would be cursed if they touched someone with albinism. The thought of embracing or even eating with them was therefore unimaginable! Understandably, this belief has an enormous impact on those with albinism, as they live in a state of constant fear and self-condemnation, which sometimes causes them to take their own life.
Elesse does not have albinism, however he recognized that the perception towards and treatment of those with albinism needed to be healed. As he says: “From our research, we were very convinced that the albino/non-albino relationship needed more intervention and more attention for it be better, inclusive, harmonious, peaceful…” So Elesse and his wife, Virginia, seized the opportunity! A doctor was brought to the concert to educate the participants about albinism and to clarify that it is not a curse, but rather a condition of the skin. Also present was a pastor who spoke about the humanity of the people with albinism. And then of course there were the musicians who united the group with songs and dance!
The misconceptions that were brought to the concert were dropped and fears disappeared as everyone stood face-to-face and hand-in-hand, dancing and eating together, thus giving room for true humanity to shine through. No longer enemies, they joined together as friends and as fellow brothers and sisters.
Here are a few testaments from the exchanges between the participants…
Loraine (non-albino) and Jeson (person with albinism):
Loraine: During all my life, I never liked to see or touch an albino. What has happened today is for me a miracle. And I think it is the beginning of another story between me and the albino. I understand that they are humankind like me with all the possible needs. This event is a healing for me and thanks a lot to the facilitator!
Jeson: I always felt discriminated and rejected by the non-albino but the words of Loraine during our talk have strengthened and encouraged me. I would like all the non-albinos to reach this level of thinking and then we will all have a good world.
Tania (person with albinism) and Papy (non-albino)
Tania: I‘m generally shy because of my state and more also because of much condemnations from non-albinos and from myself so that I’m really affected, wounded in the heart and some moments no need to continue living…I’m happy because this kind of idea is a way to help us. I appreciate my exchange with Mr. Papy who showed a great kindness, which is very different from some non-albinos. God bless the facilitator!
Papy: I’m very happy that this meeting has helped me have an exchange with an albino, to talk with her, eat with her. This is fantastic and a great step with me in report with what I was thinking about albinos. The facilitator‘s idea is simply outstanding!
It is tempting to believe that some relationships are so broken that they are unrestorable. This assumption begs the question: what is the foundation that the relationship is built on? In regards to the one between people with and without albinism, it is often one of fear and ignorance, which is a foundation that cannot stand, but must ultimately crumble. Elesse restored their relationship by establishing a new foundation, one built on compassion, love, inclusiveness and the Golden Rule. He encouraged them to see beyond their differences and to discover what they share in common – their humanity.
Ask yourself: who is my “Other”? What misconceptions do I have about them? What is keeping me from embracing them as a member of my community? And then consider this: what is the foundation of our relationship? Is it fear, ignorance or mistrust? Now imagine what your community would look like if it was built on trust, honesty, humanity, cooperation and connection. As Elesse’s concert shows, perhaps the first step in healing a broken relationship is to embrace the humanity in the other person, and upon this foundation of equal humanity, a new relationship is created.
If you are interested in learning more about Elesse’s work and/or partnering with him as a sponsor for his future activities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about albinism and what is being done to correct misconceptions and to support those with albinism, click here.