This month's trailblazer is Abongile Xhantini, a South African activist for disability and Albinism awareness. She has been working on this for 6 years and is passionate to share her journey with us.
1. Tell us about the work that you do, and the organisation you work with/for.
The work that I do is related to Albinism Human Rights. However as I have learnt through travel it isn't just the minority of people with albinism that are confronted with the deprivation of human rights. Thus, my activism extends to those with "disabilities" and minority groups.
I began toying with the idea of a Foundation a few years ago, I didn't know enough then. In fact I still don't know as much as I would like to know,but I founded an Initiative "Holding Albus", which first started as a activist Facebook page with the hope that people would share their questions, worries, take it and own it as theirs to openly have dialogues.
I quickly learnt that this didn't work. My plans, dreams and urgency grew and I wanted this page to be more on the ground, hands-on. And That's when i began the foundation for Holding Albus. In the short snap of three months I have worked with and collaborated with the Albinism Society of South Africa, the Wits Disability Rights Unit, the Wits Disability Awareness Group.
There are plans to work with Interest groups on disability and Albinism issues and to reach out to all schools and bring Albinism out of the century old shadows.
2. How does your work create tangible change in Africa? And which groups are affected by your work?
I have answered this a little bit in the above question, but the tangible work, is creating freedom, support and a space to just say "You're okay" No justification needed. the tangible work we have created is to begin prioritising issues that mainstream society never has to face, so the issues are side-lined. The work here is to first reach the consciousness, thinking and beliefs about albinism by allowing people like me to see more of themselves in spaces, media, photos, schools.
With a reflection of yourself in society, that is now also being prioritised you can develop a sense of personhood to flourish. this issue is primarily critical in Africa where our communities are dominated by superstition, and where answers do not come to them, their knowledge is created out of ignorance.
This has created a population of ordinary citizens to sub-human, and second class citizens only because they never asked, they fought against the nature of others and so never knew that we deserve the lives, rights and space we are born into.
We are empowering a voice that was hidden in layers of other people's stories and creating our truths for people to see, learn and flourish. We are also empowers young professionals (from all genders and backgrounds) to see the value in their skills set and capability, never-mind their background.
We want to extend to full on programmes and partner with schools, organisation and private entities to make the necessary changes that respect minority needs.
3. As a young person achieving so much in Africa and the world, what are the biggest challenges that you face and how have/do you overcome these challenges?
Working on Albinism Advocacy and telling my story, being open about where my rights are forgotten, side lined has opened me up to rejection, great judgement and people deciding my identity for me. I have been fortunate to have a high threshold for emotional attacks, and a great self-assured sense of self, and an ability to understand that we all suffer.
From this place of wanting to restore order, fix systems the challenges and depths of the problems have become so clear to me that I have taken those moments, and used them as fuel for developing Holding Albus. I also hurt as everyone else, and after a small sob, or a venting session (which my dog is forced to listen to) I remember that this path I have chosen is not about me.
How people react to my presence is not about me, their judgements are not about me. They are about the work that still needs to be done, the freedom of being that still needs advocacy.
A lot of the time when I am stuck, and that is often when you are undertaking such a task, I ask for help. I think That is something that has helped me move, asking for help, asking to learn and admitting I know little. That is important if you want to grow.
4. What is your advice to young Africans who are despondent about the future of Africa?
Everyone has issues, everywhere you may think they have it better, there is still suffering there. Yet, there is so much hope in us, there is love, laughter and strength in how long we have endured struggle.
What I also know for sure is wherever we are in Africa, we have been placed there because we have greatness to do, and everything we need to do it. We just need to remember the fundamental lessons achievements that the lineage of elders have prepared for us, so we could be here. We never walk alone.
5. Do you see yourself as a change-maker and why?
"Change-maker" is focused too much on the name and the prestige. If people see me as one, I am humbled. Honestly, I am a human being, brought into a super natural world to lead my highest expression.
I have come to believe that is to love, help and defend people. And I think that can create incredible change in the areas of minority human rights and personhood of people with albinism. To call me a "Change -maker" at this point is premature, but I appreciate the light people see in me and work.
6. What is your vision for Africa?
My vision for Africa is layered. At the basic level it is to see people in their cultures, backgrounds, roots as enough. The next layer is to take that self assured identity and live out our passions with our own resources, ethos and power, so that in the deepest layer Africa can be what Africa calls us to be, what we have forgotten - to be the land that is in need of no false identities, but built on the scars that only ask us to rise and lead - our way, and claim our African thrown because we are flourishing from a point of healing and authentic unity. We will get there, I suppose we are still learning to crawl first.