Category Archives: Africa

Teresian Sisters in Malawi work to stem violence against people with albinism

Sr. Beatrice Mbilima of the Teresian Sisters (second from left) visits Loness Masautso's family in Mtendere, a large village some 60 miles south of the Malawian capital of Lilongwe.
Sr. Beatrice Mbilima of the Teresian Sisters (second from left) visits Loness Masautso’s family in Mtendere, a large village some 60 miles south of the Malawian capital of Lilongwe. The sister with her congregation is working to improve the lives of people with albinism in southern Malawi. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo

MTENDERE, MALAWI — “We are not safe here; people are hunting for our body parts. We keep on hiding when we see strangers coming to our village. It’s time we sought asylum in the U.S.”

These were the words of 35-year-old Loness Masautso, a woman living with albinism in this remote, deeply traditional corner of southern Malawi.

Masautso, whose husband and three children all have albinism, said they survived an attempted attack in December last year by people wanting to kill them for their body parts. She said people unknown to them and armed with knives appeared at her door at 8 p.m. after the family had eaten dinner and one shouted to others, “Money is here! Money is here! Money is here!” People with albinism are often referred to as “money” because their body parts can be sold illegally.

“We became so afraid and I knew we were going to die,” said a teary Masautso, who lives in a small mud brick house. “My husband hid the children in a separate room, and then we started to shout until neighbors came out of their houses and caught one of the attackers.” They later called the police, who arrested the man, she said.

Such attacks have changed the daily lives of people with albinism in this part of the world as many often live in constant fear for their lives. Children run away from strangers. Adults lock themselves inside their houses and hide under their beds when they see a stranger from afar. Local vigilantes accompany a few students going to school to ensure they are safe. Community members guard the adults with albinism as they work the farms. Their villages are also protected by vigilantes to ensure those with the genetic condition are not attacked, abducted or even killed.

Catholic women religious in Malawi visit them every morning and evening and mobilize members of the surrounding communities to protect them from attackers. In addition, they work to open up access to livelihoods and dermatological, vision and other health care services.

Masautso’s family is among thousands of families with albinism in the southern African nation who describe their homeland as a “hell” and are seeking asylum in the U.S. and Europe because of the persecution. Albinism includes a group of inherited disorders where there is little or no production of the pigment melanin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Melanin gives skin, hair and eyes their color and plays a role in the development of optic nerves. Reduced quantities or absence of melanin leads to vision problems for people with albinism.

People with albinism in Malawi continue to be targeted for their body parts, which, due to their whiteness, are believed to bring good luck and wealth. The attacks include killings, tampering with graves, attempted abductions and physical violence. The assaults and killings are said to be fueled by poverty and superstition, which lead those afflicted to live in fear of harm and denial of human rights such as education, health care, employment and family life.

The landlocked country has more than 134,000 people with albinism, representing 0.8% of the total population, according to the 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census. Since 2015, more than 160 people with albinism have been killed in the country, and thousands of others have faced various human rights violations, according to media reports. Similar cases of violations are also being reported in neighboring Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.

Religious leaders, local officials and elders told Global Sisters Report that witch doctors promote that body parts of an albino have magical powers to bring luck, including making someone rich or powerful, and that having sex with people with albinism cures diseases like HIV/AIDS, infertility and cancer. They said an entire human body of an albino can fetch up to $75,000, while an arm or a leg could bring about $2,000.

The illegal business is fueled by poverty, they said, adding that the majority of Malawians are poor and are looking for ways to come out of poverty. In April 2021, the small agrarian country was ranked the fifth poorest in the world, based on International Monetary Fund data.

“These people are being killed like animals because of lust for money,” said Loyd Kuyenda, a village administrator overseeing Mtendere, a large village some 60 miles south of the Malawian capital of Lilongwe. “People with albinism have been forced to hide in their houses to avoid being murdered or kidnapped.”

The widespread killing of people with albinism for their body parts and amputations of their limbs has prompted religious leaders, including nuns, to launch a campaign to educate the communities to abandon cultural beliefs and stop targeting albino people.

Teresian Sr. Beatrice Mbilima who leads the campaign, said people with albinism often face isolation and stigma for their entire lives and are denied their basic rights, such as the right to go to school, have access to health care services, get jobs and have a family.

“We are preaching the word of God to the people so that it changes their minds and [leads them to] abandon their belief in witchcraft,” said Mbilima, noting that the susceptibility to witchcraft is widespread in rural Malawi. “As a church, we have the responsibility to provide religious teachings to people so that they can believe in God and not in witchcraft.”

Mbilima and her congregation have been conducting awareness campaigns in southern Malawi by organizing public meetings and distributing flyers to educate the communities about the rights of people with albinism and dispel the myths surrounding their conditions.

“We teach people not to segregate [people with albinism]; rather they should see them as normal human beings as they are,” she said, adding that her congregation carries out awareness campaigns at least every three months to ensure everyone gets the message. Mbilima said government restrictions and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed community sensitization to reduce myths and misconceptions around people with albinism.

Sisters also run a health clinic in southern Malawi where they provide dermatology services and distribute sunglasses, cream, clothing, hats, shade and sunscreen to people with albinism. They have engaged the youth in various communities to guard houses of people with albinism to protect them from attacks.

“We are committed to protecting these people and ensuring they are safe,” said Mbilima, whose congregation also provides hygiene kits and food items like grains, vegetable oil, maize flour, pulses and rice. “We have a plan to build them houses if we get the resources and sponsor their children to get education.”

To end albino persecution in the country, some of the people living with albinism want the government to intervene and help religious leaders stop the ongoing atrocities against them. Musa Wiladi, 38, said the nuns and other religious leaders have tried to help them where they can, but the government needs to protect them, investigate and prosecute offenders, give people with albinism jobs and financial support.

“I grew up a very disturbed man. I was treated as if I was not a human being. People called me a ghost because they believed I had supernatural powers. Others told me that my mother was impregnated by a white man,” said Wiladi, who is now married with three children without albinism. “I was forced to drop out of school because of my security. The government should take some measures to ensure the rights of people living with albinism are protected.”

Still, some analysts say it is not easy to end these killings and abductions. One of the witch doctors from Tabora, a rural town in northwestern Tanzania, told Global Sisters Report that it’s not easy to stop something that makes people rich and brings people out of poverty.

The witch doctor, who didn’t want his name mentioned because of his safety, said people often receive albino limbs and organs from neighboring countries, including Malawi, which are used to bring good luck, wealth and political success. People who have risked undertaking this kind of business have been able to build better houses, buy good cars and invest in urban businesses, he said.

“It’s true that those body parts of people with albinism can make someone rich, bring fortunes, and make one gain political power,” he said. “If it weren’t true, then people could have stopped all these killings. But they can’t stop it because they know there are benefits.”

Mbilima dismissed the witch doctor’s belief, saying she has never seen anyone becoming rich because of trading organs of people with albinism.

“This belief that somebody else’s body organs could give you wealth is really unfortunate and absurd,” she said, adding that the belief gives them reasons to continue creating awareness so that people can change their attitudes. “Whenever I hear such stories, honestly, I always feel very bad because all of us are made in the image and likeness of God, and no one has the right to deprive another of life.”

Catholic officials and human rights campaigners, who are also carrying out awareness campaigns on behalf of people with albinism, said the government needs to take necessary measures to prevent attacks, including murders, and discrimination against people with albinism.

Malawi’s government has been slow to prosecute suspects accused of attacking and murdering people with albinism because police lack forensic skills, resources and legal training, activists and religious leaders contend. The majority of cases that have gone to court have failed because of flawed investigations and a lack of evidence, they said, concluding that security has not improved, leaving thousands of people with albinism vulnerable to all kinds of attacks.

“There are many cases that we are trying to push for their conclusion and ensure there is stiffer punishment that needs to be given to those violating the rights of others,” Boniface Chibwana, the national coordinator of Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Malawi bishops’ conference, told Global Sisters Report in an interview in August. “The prolonging of some of these cases is making the perpetrators walk free, and they continue to commit the same crimes.”

Chibwana said amputations and murders of people with albinism for their body parts were still happening across the country. Two weeks ago, for instance, the body of a person with albinism was found in a decomposing state in Blantyre, the second largest city in southern Malawi. The hands and legs had been cut off.

“If stiffer punishments could be given to those found culpable, then there won’t be these killings and abductions,” he said, noting that his organization has intensified its campaign focused on empowering local people with financial support, awareness and legal training on the rights of people with albinism.

Meanwhile, Masautso and her family still live in fear of persecution and violence, despite the efforts being undertaken by religious leaders and human right activists to protect them.

“I need to quickly move out of this place with my family,” she said. “We are not safe, and death can knock on our door anytime.”

Vending machines bring safe, cheap water to Nairobi slums

An employe of community organisation Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) activates a water selling machine at a in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

NAIROBI, – In the 30 years that Josephine Muthoni has lived in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum, she has never had a steady supply of clean water.

The only way to get water was from vendors dotted around the slum, who charge exorbitant prices for the often polluted water they buy from government water points or steal straight from the municipal pipes, the 62-year-old mother of nine explained.

Muthoni said filling a 20-litre (5-gallon) jerry can cost as much as 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.45) – a potentially crippling amount in a city where the majority of slum dwellers earn less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

“We would sometimes walk five kilometres to get water. I thought that was how life should be until I worked for a family and saw water flowing full time from their taps,” the retired housekeeper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The more than 600,000 residents living in one of Nairobi’s largest slums have struggled with water access for years, a problem exacerbated by frequent bouts of city-wide water rationing, which has been ongoing since 2017.

But soon, Mukuru residents will be able to fill a jerry can with clean water for as little as 50 Kenyan cents, using token-operated vending machines that the city government is installing in an effort to ease the slum’s water stress.

With the new system, residents will receive plastic tokens – similar to key fobs – that they can charge using the M-Pesa mobile money platform.

They then insert the tokens into a machine at one of the 10 water stations being set up around Mukuru and select how much water they want dispensed.

Kagiri Gicheha, an engineer at the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), which is helping develop the system, said the project is in the final stages, only awaiting the installation of the vending machines.

The dispensers, each costing 200,000 shillings, mean Mukuru residents will no longer be at the mercy of the slum’s informal, exploitative water market, Gicheha said.

“This is a way of controlling the cartels that have long been stealing water in the slums because this is an automated system that is very easy to manage,” he said.

Until the system is operational, residents can fetch clean water for free from boreholes that have been dug for the project, each of which will feed up to four water dispensers.

Since starting the project in April 2020, the city government has drilled nearly 200 boreholes across five Nairobi slums and hopes to expand to more areas depending on funding and demand, Gicheha said.


Officials decided to launch the system in Mukuru after seeing the success of a similar programme run by the local nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum.

Currently, there are 23 machines dispensing water to Kibera residents, who pay two shillings to fill a jerry can, said Johnstone Mutua, a programme officer at the grassroots group.

“The project is very efficient. Most residents now know how to use the system and we installed solar-powered lights for security at night,” said Mutua.

“This means someone can get water anytime they want.”

Maureen Adhiambo, a 28-year-old mother of three in Kibera, says the vending machines cost half of what she used to pay water vendors and finally offer her a reliable source of water.

“(Before), the queues were too long and water would come only once a week,” she said.

“Now, I can buy five 20-litre jerry cans of water per day … and there’s no queue.”

Mutua said the first attempt at setting up a water vending system was in Mathare slum in 2015.

But the machines were being fed from large tankers, not boreholes, he said, which meant during drought there was no water to fill them with – so now the machines in Mathare stand empty.


Fuelled by explosive population growth, demand for water in Kenya’s capital has shot up over the past decade, but broken municipal water pipes and frequent drought leave the city chronically thirsty.

While residents need more than 810,000 cubic meters daily, the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure can only supply 526,000 cubic metres, according to figures from the NCWSC.

Across Kenya, the water crisis hits hardest in slums, where nearly half the urban population lives, according to the World Bank, and where homes are not connected to the water grid.

Before the vending machine project came to Mukuru, Gideon Musyoka, an elder of one of the villages inside the slum, said the taps at the government water points rarely flowed and when they did the water was often tainted by raw sewage.

For women, the search for water was time-consuming, expensive and dangerous, exposing them to sexual assault or rape. “Women were almost getting used to being raped, even in broad daylight, as they went to water points to fetch water,” said Muthoni, the Mukuru resident.


Jamlick Mutie, an independent water and sanitation expert working in Nairobi’s slums, applauds the water dispensers as a safe, affordable and efficient solution.

Mutie noted that at the subsidized cost of 25 shillings per cubic metre, Mukuru residents will be able to buy water for less than half what other Nairobi residents pay to get it piped into their homes.

Efforts to get clean water to the slums are especially urgent during the coronavirus pandemic, with health experts pointing to handwashing as one of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, he said.

“For the slum residents, it would be a disaster without water,” he said.

The price of the water is enough to cover the costs of maintenance and electricity to run the machines, making the project sustainable, he added.

The biggest challenge, Mutie warned, is protecting the machines from the cartels who see the project as a threat to their business.

Mutua at SHOFCO said Kibera residents are tackling that problem by having volunteers guard the water stations.

To discourage tampering with the vending machine pipes, the charity built an aerial water network, suspending the pipes overhead rather than burying them underground, and is encouraging the government to do the same in Mukuru, he said.

As the people in Mukuru wait for their water vending machines to arrive, Musyoka, the village elder, said having abundant, clean water is something many of them never could have imagined.

“Seeing so much water in Mukuru slums is what we call magic. Now, we can say that people are clean and healthy,” he said. ($1 = 109.7500 Kenyan shillings)

Sisters continue a mission of justice and peace, despite danger

A family is pictured sitting near a damaged home after an attack by suspected members of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, Nov. 1, 2018, in Bulabulin, Nigeria. (CNS/Reuters/Kolawole Adewale)
A family is pictured sitting near a damaged home after an attack by suspected members of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, Nov. 1, 2018, in Bulabulin, Nigeria. (CNS/Reuters/Kolawole Adewale)

Life in Nigeria is better experienced than described. A country in West Africa with a population of about 219,000,000, Nigeria has a Christian majority in the east and south, a Muslim majority in the north, and both Christians and Muslims in the west. It is not news anymore that life in Nigeria is as unsafe for its citizens as it is for foreigners. At one time a country with some of the happiest and most religious people in the world, it is currently one of the most terrorized nations on the face of the earth: and this is where the religious sisters witness to the Golden Rule, on a daily basis, without counting the cost.

Equipped with spiritual armor, the sisters traverse the country to strengthen the populace, in spite of physical dangers. In the past, not many sisters were seen in Nigeria engaging in works that would have had a place in the limelight, but a vocation boom has multiplied the number of religious congregations and institutes in the country. Today, sisters are everywhere. Their mission: eloquently advocating for peace, conscientiously cleaning wounds, and courageously wiping the faces of impoverished and traumatized masses who have been turned into refugees in their own country, thus united in hardship. Justice and peace are the watchwords of these sisters.

I have been reflecting on how religious sisters/nuns — women who profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience — participate in the daily work of peace and justice in Nigeria, to strengthen their resilience in the work of evangelization. Once chosen and called, no one who looks back is worthy of the kingdom (Luke 9:62), and our experiences as sisters in Nigeria, I believe, will be an encouragement to others in other parts of the world.

Corruption has robbed our country of good leadership, impoverished the people, destroyed social amenities and infrastructures, and promoted and empowered terrorists’ activities that are violating human rights and rendering many homeless, orphaned and widowed. The recent events of the #EndSars protest in the country is just a tip of the iceberg of brutality which is producing victims who need the attention of sisters in many situations.

As every sector is endangered, the lives of the sisters also are in perpetual danger, yet they go out daily to give hope to the people all over the country in schools, orphanages, civic centers, clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home visitations, and camps for people who are displaced.

I am still thinking about Sister Henrietta Alokha of Bethlehem Girls College, Lagos, who was killed when a pillar fell on her as she searched for her trapped students, after an explosion leveled their school last year.

Due to insecurity all over the country, the bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen, and Boko Haram activities know no bounds. The fate of sisters engaging in apostolates in every corner of the nation is wrapped in uncertainty.

I remember one example of some sisters working in a diocese in western Nigeria. For years they have been agents of security and peace in the area, where they run a diocesan school. The school has been set on fire three times by parents from an “untouchable tribe,” whose children were sent home because of their refusal to pay school fees; not that they could not afford it, but because they felt impunity. Sisters have continued teaching there for the sake of others who also need education. Their perseverance and undaunting spirit always calm the residents of the area.

When I was serving as principal of a school in the north, I watched very traumatized students struggle with perpetual anxiety because of religious differences that led to gunshots and the raiding of churches, schools and homes by terrorists. Here, the sisters organized forums for parents to discuss our common goals for the students’ welfare and their positive mental health.

Sisters have also joined our voices in calling for an end to incessant killings in the country, justice for victims and equity for all.

Again, our identifying with the people paves the way to acceptance and collaboration. There is a high acceptance of the sisters among Muslims. They especially appreciate the sisters’ habits, which indicate — “we come in peace” — and endear them to the people. Bishops in the north are leveraging this acceptance and are using more sisters in evangelization in the dioceses.

Sisters in the medical field take mobile clinics to very remote settlements, to provide as much help as they are allowed to give to the numerous young mothers who are married off very young due to religious belief in early marriage. Such opportunities are used to instruct the women on topics not prejudicial to religion, to maintain peace and harmony. Many sisters work with displaced persons in camps and use the opportunity to give them hope.

In addition, some sisters engage in advocacy for the vulnerable victims of human traffickers. They, the sisters, go from school to school, to town gatherings, markets and village settings, giving enlightenment programs and training people on various skill acquisitions to develop self-worth and self-confidence, and reduce the chances of being exploited.

Other sisters take in girls with unwanted pregnancies, nurture them to term, and train them in skills for motherhood, thus helping to reduce the rate of abortion. Some get involved in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue programs; since sisters’ integrity is not in question, they broker peace and harmony wherever they are. Trust and confidence in the sisters is the only key that opens the door allowing them access to all these places.

Therefore, adorned in their religious habits, sisters work for and among all classes of people; among Christians and non-Christians, in churches and in civic centers, in camps and villages, in schools, clinics and hospitals — anywhere there are human beings in the country, regardless of creed — giving love, offering hope and encouraging fervent faith to drive out fears.

Sharp-eyed grandmothers combat looting and crime in South Africa

Thomas, Evelyne and Mpho pose for a photo in Bertrams in Johannesburg, South Africa. July 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG, – As looters ran through the streets of Johannesburg, South African grandmother Evelyne turned off her lights, stood by her window and carefully lifted her curtain, surveying the chaos as gunshots and screams filled the night air.

The 72-year-old was guarding her property, but she was also gathering information to share with her neighbourhood watch team, made up of a few male patrollers and about a dozen grandmothers in the inner city’s Bertrams neighbourhood.

“I was scared to go outside, but I heard that there were gunshots coming from a nearby shop and groups of men running through the streets,” said Evelyne, who relayed her observations to her team who then alerted police.

“One man tried to jump over my wall but I shouted through the window and he ran away,” Evelyne, whose full name is being withheld to protect her identity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

South Africa’s worst violence in years broke out after last week’s arrest of former president, Jacob Zuma, with soldiers deployed to stop crowds looting everything from washing machines to fridges and groceries.

The unrest comes at a time of frustration with COVID-19 restrictions, government corruption scandals and inequality that persists 27 years after the end of white minority rule, with unemployment hitting a new high of 32.6% this year.

One of the most unequal countries in the world, South Africa saw its highest murder rate in a decade in 2020, with 21,000 homicides, or 58 a day, a figure five times higher than the global average, according to government statistics.

Residents say rising unemployment fuels drug use and crime, as more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns has triggered major job losses, particularly in construction, the informal sector and private homes.

The grandmother lookout team – who generally patrol from the safety of their patios – have become more valuable than ever, said Thomas Makama, founder of the neighbourhood watch scheme.

“About two shops were looted, but we managed to stop up to 10 shops from being attacked because we were on the lookout and called police for urgent backup,” said Makama, who called and visited the grandmothers to gather information.

“It’s dangerous work,” said 61-year-old Makama, who never carries a weapon and relies on his people skills to engage with criminals and police and dissipate danger.


Makama founded the Bertrams Residents Movement in 2015, after the community helped him get back his home when he was evicted and forced on to the streets by “hijackers” who were trying to illegally take over the site where he lived.

Makama, who was working as a panel beater and unable to afford rent for his family of six, had been given permission to build a shack on the land by its owners, who lived in Canada.

“The community realised what had happened and protested my eviction. We got legal support and eventually returned,” said Makama, sitting alongside his corrugated iron shelter. “The community saved my life, so now I dedicate mine to them.”

Makama patrols the streets at night on foot to make sure residents are safe, while the grandmothers act as extra eyes, quickly phoning Makama if they hear or witness crime.

Residents say Makama comes quickly at any hour to calm people down as they wait for the police to arrive.

“It takes two to fight crime: we need the community involved because they are there 24 hours and they know what is happening in their environment,” said Bertrams police captain Richard Munyai, cautioning residents not to approach criminals.

“They mustn’t be heroes, just informers.”

Criminologist Anine Kriegler said the grandmothers sitting on their porches and looking out their windows are using a tried-and-tested method known as natural surveillance, which deters criminals by increasing the number of eyes on them.

“Grandmothers have been playing an important role in looking after young people for most of human history,” said Kriegler of the University of Cape Town.

Such surveillance tools, which also include keeping entrances well-lit and cutting down bushes to eliminate hiding spots, offer a low-cost alternative to barricading yourself behind high walls and electric fences, she said.

“The wealthy buy themselves … fortification that harms natural surveillance,” she said. “We can’t look out for each other if we live in fortresses.”

Although many South Africans have lost faith in the police, with some even resorting to vigilantism, communities can work together to improve their security through neighbourhood watches, she said.

Makama is a firm believer in non-violent crime prevention, citing how one grandmother called him to stop a drug dealer beating his daughter. The police rushed to the scene and arrested the man who is still in prison today.

“There are a lot of problems but we do something to protect one another instead of waiting for things to get better,” agreed Evelyne.

The group, made up of just 18 regular volunteers, also helps the community respond to illegal evictions, contact the government over water or electricity cuts, escorts children safely to school and runs a soup kitchen.

“We play an important role, even though we do it free – we do it because we care,” said Elizabeth, a 60-year-old volunteer.

Uncertain whether looting would continue as darkness fell, Makama was preparing for another sleepless night, determined to give back to neighbours who have helped him over the years.

He described how he nearly cried at Christmas when he was short of food and 72-year-old Evelyne delivered a trolley filled with groceries to his door.

“If you love and protect your community, they will love and protect you too,” he said.

Warning girls about the tactics of human traffickers

Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, teaching about trafficking to the students in Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria (Courtesy of Teresa Anyabuike)
Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, teaching about trafficking to the students in Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria (Courtesy of Teresa Anyabuike)

As we, the Africa Faith and Justice Network-Nigeria walked into Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria, I felt we were at the right place to speak with a vulnerable group of young girls who might be future victims of human trafficking. I was happy that we were going to share with younger children information about the dangers of human trafficking. The school administration was also pleased to welcome us to speak with the students on how to avoid being trafficked, and to teach them to speak out when they notice unusual behaviors. There were about 200 girls, from grades 7-12.

It was interesting that — though the students already have some idea about what human trafficking is — they were surprised that perpetrators can be family members or friends of a family. I could see their innocence and fear when they realized that no one could be trusted, since family members too are potential perpetrators of human trafficking.

They were very attentive and active during the program. The students were eager to know more and share with their friends about what they learned about human trafficking and the tricks perpetrators use to lure their victims. Anyone can be a victim and/or an agent for perpetrators. This was highlighted in a short drama that I guided them to act. The drama shows that there are chains of traffickers linked together, waiting for an available opportunity to strike.

In order to educate and inform their consciences, I asked the students if they understood the core message of the drama and the ideas it was trying to get across. Their answers were affirmative and that gave me joy. In fact, understanding the message I tried to get across with the help of a short drama means that this group of students will be able to elude the tricks of traffickers.

The girls were shocked to learn about online trafficking. They were in dismay and expressed it, looking at each other when one of the speakers, Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister, shared with them how one can be trafficked online. Traffickers come across as harmless friends on social media, requesting friendship and showing potential victims enticing things that could lure them into believing they are really what they pretend to be.

Traffickers make conscious efforts to buy the trust of their victims before they strike. They make sure that the victims don’t have any doubt about them; traffickers would go to any extent to prevent anyone that might help the victims to see otherwise. The students were advised not to be quick to accept “friend requests” on social media of persons they don’t know, and to avoid flashy offers from potential “friends” or strangers.

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. It is dehumanizing. A lot of people are forced into sex, hard drugs, hard labor, and are even beaten to death. Trafficked persons are also sold so that their organs can be harvested and sold.

Sr. Mary Rosanna also shared with the students how some victims have been trafficked online after having been lured with enticing job offers and parties. After traffickers build trust with their potential victims, they invite them for an outing to carry out their devilish plan. She urged the girls to be vigilant, intelligent and smart, and to speak out when they began to notice something unusual about a friend or classmate. This was to remind the students that they are their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in the fight against human trafficking. She also told the students that 99% of girls trafficked are sexually abused and used for sex labor and other dehumanizing ventures.

I shared with the students some experiences that I had. On different occasions I got a phone call and a text message. The phone call was to tell me to come and collect a parcel someone sent me. I was quite sure that no one sent me any parcel. So, I told the caller to desist from evil tricks to lure people to his den! It was obvious to me that the caller had something up his sleeve. The text message was about getting a well-paid job, and gave me a number to contact. I ignored the message. I still had the message on my phone, and I read it to the students. They were surprised.

Some of the students said that they will share what they have learned with their friends and loved ones. They were so happy to be part of the program. They promised that they will work in their existing groups in the school to report any issues bordering on sexual misconduct to the school authorities. They also said that they will make conscious efforts to speak out and let their parents and guardians know what is happening to them. And they said they will be wise in the use of social media.

One thing you ought to know, I told them, is that anyone can be a victim. Nobody is too big or too small to be trafficked. Everyone is a potential victim. The keyword is vigilance. I was overjoyed with the responses of the students, and to see their action plan. It was very satisfying to have reached out to share information with our younger sisters, who could be victims of human trafficking at any time.

From child soldier to Catholic priest: Father Mbikoyo lives to give hope to the hopeless

South Sudanese refugees queue to receive water at a refugee camp near Kosti Sudan in June 2017 Credit Aid to the Church in Need CNA
South Sudanese refugees queue to receive water at a refugee camp near Kosti, Sudan, June 2017./ Aid to the Church in Need.

A Catholic priest is returning to the land where he was once abducted to “give hope to those who have lost hope.”

For the past seven years Fr. Charles Mbikoyo has studied philosophy at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, he told EWTN News In Depth July 9. But his story starts in what is now South Sudan, where he entered seminary at 12 years of age, in 1988. 

His studies there were interrupted one year later, when rebels came knocking at the door in the middle of the night. 

“There was a strong voice,” Fr. Mbikoyo remembered, ordering the seminarians to “come out.”

Aware of the threat posed by nearby rebel groups, the seminarians hesitated to open the door. But the men outside warned that “if you don’t open the door, they will just destroy us together with the building.”

They reluctantly walked outside where the rebels ordered them to gather their belongings and leave with them “for education.” Fr. Mbikoyo, along with 40 other boys and their rector, were captured.

“The first thing they said,” Fr. Mbikoyo recalled, was that “anybody who escapes will be shot dead.”

For the next three months, the boys underwent rigorous military training.

“We have to jump like frogs,” Fr. Mbikoyo said. “We have to learn to dodge bullets. How to shoot.”

“The doctrine was: ‘The gun is my father,’” he stressed. In other words, “it is for everything. Anything you want to get, just have this gun.”

According to Fr. Mbikoyo, he and his fellow seminarians “just gave up.”

“We lost hope of returning home,” he said. “We lost hope of going back to school. We lost hope of becoming priests, which was our initial intention.”

But the seminary’s rector refused to be set free, and insisted on staying with the boys. 

“The words of the rector used to give me hope,”  Fr. Mbikoyo said. “Used to make me understand that, yes, there is a God who can protect us.”

After months of captivity, he found a way to escape with four other boys. They survived a perilous journey that included crossing two rivers where deadly animals swam. 

“When we escaped, we went to the town called Yei,” he said. He resumed his seminary training there until the rebels threatened him again.

“We continued for one month, but then we started hearing about the rebels coming to capture Yei,” he said. “We said, ‘no.’ If they find us again . . . they will either kill us or they take us back to the front line to fight.” 

The Red Cross “picked us back home,” he said, and the seminary moved from Rimenze to Nzara to avoid the rebels. But they still found them and attacked again.

That’s when Fr. Mbikoyo left the country and relocated to the Central African Republic. After living there for three years, he traveled to Uganda to continue his education.

“I stayed for so many years without seeing my parents – around eight or nine years,” he estimated. “Because I was in exile. We were afraid that when we go back home, they can conscript us.”

He was eventually ordained in 2007, after the Second Sudanese Civil War ended. 

“When I became a priest, I said, ‘This is a true vocation,’” he stressed. “Because, with all this suffering, maybe I would have gone away from the seminary thinking that this is not my call. Why should I have all this kind of suffering in my life?”

“I realized that no, that’s my vocation,” he concluded. 

After finishing his studies in Rome, Fr. Mbikoyo is preparing to return to South Sudan.

“My country is troubled, and everybody is traumatized. So as a priest, when I go back, my role is – my mission is – to give hope to those who have lost hope,” he said.

Among other things, he hopes to use his experience for good, and to help rehabilitate other child soldiers.

“I will encourage them to embrace their faith and to also pursue the vocation each one wants to choose,” he said, whatever that might be.

Northeast Nigeria conflict killed more than 300,000 children: UN

Children younger than five account for more than nine out of 10 of those killed due to armed group violence, with 170 dying every day, the UNDP said [File: Emmanuel Braun/Reuters]
Children younger than five account for more than nine out of 10 of those killed due to armed group violence, with 170 dying every day, the UNDP said [File: Emmanuel Braun/Reuters]

A 12-year-old conflict in northeast Nigeria has caused, directly and indirectly, the deaths of some 350,000 people, the vast majority of which are children below the age of five, the United Nations found in a new report.

The death toll, given by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in a new study on the war and its effect on livelihoods published on Thursday, is 10 times higher than previous estimates of about 35,000 based only on those killed in fighting in Nigeria since violence broke out.

The armed group Boko Haram launched an uprising in 2009 displacing more than two million from their homes and spawning one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions of people dependent on aid. The conflict shows little sign of ending.

Children younger than five account for some 324,000 deaths, more than nine out of 10 of those killed, with 170 dying every day, the UNDP said.

Of nearly 350,000 deaths from the conflict, it estimated 314,000 to have resulted from indirect causes.

Insecurity has led to declines in agricultural production and trade, reducing access to food and threatening the many households that depend on agriculture for their livelihood, the UN said.

Thousands of displaced people lack access to food, health facilities, shelter and clean water, with children more vulnerable, the report added.

“With another decade of conflict, that could grow to more than 1.1 million,” it said.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram group split into two in 2016 with its rival ISIL (ISIS)-allied faction ISWAP becoming the dominant threat. Despite ongoing military operations, the groups have continued to launch attacks, spreading violence to parts of neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

In the Lake Chad region, the UN said more than “3.2 million individuals are displaced, with 5.3 million food-insecure people at crisis and emergency levels”.

The situation is worse in Nigeria’s northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, it said.

“In northeast Nigeria alone, 13.1 million people live in areas affected by conflict, out of whom 8.7 million are in need of immediate assistance,” the UN said.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general, is under pressure to end armed groups’ violence.

But the security forces appear overwhelmed as they battle other security challenges, including herder-farmer clashes in the centre of the country, kidnapping and banditry in the northwest and separatist agitations in the south.

In the northeast, armed groups have kidnapped dozens of aid workers, of whom many have been killed.

From trash to treasure: The Nigerians recycling waste into wealth

Jumoke Olowokere’s giant Christmas tree, constructed from discarded bottles, has become a permanent fixture on the street near her office in Ibadan [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]
Jumoke Olowokere’s giant Christmas tree, constructed from discarded bottles, has become a permanent fixture on the street near her office in Ibadan [Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera]

If you peer into the gutters of any big Nigerian city, a filthy sight awaits you: Floating cans, nylon water sachets, empty bottles and other waste materials discarded by humans, swept there by rain, gathering and clogging up the drain.

This is not only a Nigerian problem, it is a global challenge. The world continues to writhe under the burden of waste management. In 2019, the Global Material Footprint (the amount of raw material including fossil fuels, biomass and metal and non-metal ore, extracted to meet total consumption demand), according to the United Nations, was 85.9 billion tonnes – up from 73.2 billion tonnes 10 years before. Meanwhile, the world’s electronics waste – namely discarded smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices – grew by 38 percent in that same year.

Today, March 18, the world celebrates Global Recycling Day with the theme #RecyclingHeroes to draw attention to “the people, places and activities that showcase what an important role recycling plays in contributing to an environmentally stable planet and a greener future which will benefit all”.

In Nigeria, “wastepreneurs” are providing an answer to this by taking waste straight from the dump, transforming it and redefining its purpose. These innovators work with different materials – water sachets, scrap metal, bottles, plastic, tyres and more – with many of them learning on the job, how to manipulate these objects, to make “beauty out of ashes”. These entrepreneurs ask: “If you can recycle it, why waste it?”

Ade Dagunduro: ‘Not trash, but a thing of beauty’

Surrounded by art pieces in his gallery in Dugbe at the heart of Ibadan, Ade Dagunduro, 34, takes us through his creative journey. A graduate of Fine Art from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, his desire to push the boundaries of what he learned within the walls of a university spurred him to take up more training in painting and sculpture.

“School was more theoretical, less practical. When you get out of school and into the real world, you realise there is much more to learn,” he says.

Art has “changed his life”, he adds, and, now, he can help improve life a little for others by taking waste from the streets to make art.

Originally working with regular art materials such as paint, clay and wood, five years ago, Dagunduro decided to challenge himself by thinking beyond those.

“I wanted to see if I could actually think outside the box. I asked myself if I could be more creative,” he says. In his quest to do this, Dagunduro learned to manipulate waste materials like used tyres, which would otherwise be burned – a common cause of pollution in Nigeria.

His first work with waste in 2016 was an ox made out of a tyre, called The Challenge. These days, he also works with metal, ropes and plastic which he finds on the streets in his community. Sometimes, people bring materials to his studio.

“Our environment can now smile because we have people like us trying to ease off its burden by picking the waste off its shoulders. These days, you hardly find cartons, for instance, littering the streets. Humans are exhausting the forests. Now we need more paper, so we have to start recycling what we see on the street,” he says.

Dagunduro’s latest work, titled Torso, is a female form made from dismantled motorcycle chains – which he picked up from a motorcycle mechanic’s workshop – welded together.

“You first craft with clay, then you take the mould which has been constructed and cast it out with cement. After that, you allow it to dry and then ‘liberate’ it out of the clay. So now that it is out, the pattern is already printed on the mould, and you can begin welding the metal around it, which is done in batches. After that, you couple the metal pieces together.”

Dagunduro says this is then followed by cleaning and shining, to prevent rust and preserve the artwork.

The motorcycle chains that would have been thrown on a dump now stand as a sculpture, in the far-right corner of Ade Dag Art Gallery, waiting to be bought; “waiting to re-enter the world that discarded it, not as trash but as a thing of beauty,” he says.

‘It’s radical’: the Ugandan city built on solar, shea butter and people power

Members of the Okere City community.
Members of the Okere City community. Photograph: Katumba Badru Sultan/The Guardian

Ojok Okello is transforming his destroyed village into a green town where social enterprises responsibly harness the shea treeGlobal development is supported by

The village of Okere Mom-Kok was in ruins by the end of more than a decade of war in northern Uganda.

Now, just outside Ojok Okello’s living-room door, final-year pupils at the early childhood centre are noisily breaking for recess and a market is clattering into life, as is the local craft brewery, as what has become Okere City begins a new day.

“I think what I’m doing here is radical,” says Okello, who is behind an ambitious project to transform the destroyed village of 4,000 people into a thriving and sustainable town.

Okere City began in January 2019. Its 200 hectares (500 acres) feature a school, a health clinic, a village bank and a community hall that also serves as a cinema, a church and a nightclub.

Electricity is available to all, generated from solar energy – a rarity in the region – and far from the many outbreaks of cholera which were rampant years ago, there is now clean water from a borehole.

Pupils at the school pay half their fees in cash, and the rest in maize, beans, sugar and firewood. The clinic lets people pay their bills in instalments. The local security man wields a spear, an unusual sight in an area where many men idle around as women shoulder most of the paid and unpaid work.

Okello is funding the project from his own pocket. Last year, it cost 200 million Ugandan shillings (about £39,000). The London School of Economics graduate and development expert had worked for several international charities and NGOs but grew disillusioned seeing projects fail because, he says, communities were not involved in decisions about their own future.

When he returned a few years ago to Okere Mom-Kok, hoping to meet extended family in the village he had left as a baby when his civil servant father was killed in the bush wars of the 1980s, he decided to put what he had learned into action. He wanted to create a project that was truly led by the people who lived there.

Okere now generates revenue. Every project, from the school to the local bar, can fund itself, something that has been possible because the project is being built not as a charity, but as a social enterprise, Okello says.

“I don’t want this project to be at the mercy of some white people,” he says. “I want us to have business conversations with partners. I want us to be responsible for shaping the destiny and the future of the project.”

Translated from Lango, Okere Mom-Kok means, “a baby should not cry” and the logo for the project has a smiling baby’s face. But Okello quips that building the town has been far from all smiles.

While comparisons could be made to Akon City, the futuristic smart city with its own currency being built by R&B star Akon in Senegal, Okere is, in essence, the opposite, according to Amina Yasin, an expert in city planning, who works in Vancouver, Canada.

“Akon City is going to be a walled city for the wealthy,” she says. “It sounds like a capitalist endeavour on the African continent. It is to benefit mostly non-indigenous Africans, unfortunately.”

Okere City will pioneer green energy, but its unique selling point is its shea trees. Okello says the inspiration came to him via the Marvel blockbuster movie Black Panther, as he sat under a shea tree outside his house one afternoon in early 2020.

“I looked at [the shea tree] and realised that we have this important natural resource and we were not harnessing it,” Okello says. “And I thought about Wakanda and Black Panther, they had vibranium, this shea tree could be our vibranium.”

“So I am like: ‘Damn, I’m going to invest everything within my means to tap this resource, to protect [it], and to use it to emancipate my community.”

In August, Okere Shea Butter arrived on the market. The whole city smells of shea butter, and Okello has advocated for the protection and regeneration of shea trees, classed as an endangered species threatened by extinction.

Once a week an investment club meets in the community hall. As the sun starts to set over the city, the members assemble in a circle. The majority of the more than 100 members are women, mostly farmers, but some also run small businesses.

“I got a loan from the club to buy shea seeds, which I sold at a profit,” says member Acen Olga.

Members’ financial contributions are carefully recorded before being redistributed as loans to members who need them. When borrowers repay the loan, the cycle continues.

This style of banking is particularly important because it’s original to Africans, Yasin says.

Africans slam rich nations for blocking access to generic COVID vaccines

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Charities in Africa slammed rich nations on Thursday for blocking efforts to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying this would prolong the pandemic for years in poorer nations and push millions across the continent deeper into poverty.

More than 40 charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid, said Wednesday’s move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations was “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam International’s Africa director, said sub-Saharan Africa – 14% of the global population – had received only 0.2% of 300 million vaccine doses administered worldwide.

“Ensuring every African can get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine … is the most effective way to save lives and livelihoods, keep our children in school, reduce unemployment rates and re-open our economies,” he told a news conference.

“Without it, gains made by African countries on issues of food security, democratic governance, gender justice and women’s rights will be reversed completely.”

Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by some 80 developing countries – led by India and South Africa – to waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement rules on patents.

The move sent a message that African lives were less important than those of people in rich nations, Kamalingin said.

Countries such as the United States and Britain argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

Africa’s confirmed coronavirus caseload is almost 4 million, with more than 100,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Africa accounts for less than 4% of the 118 million cases and 2.6 million deaths recorded globally, health experts say a lack of testing and reliable data from many African nations means the true figures may be far higher.

The World Bank estimates that the new coronavirus crisis has already pushed 40 million people in sub-Saharan economies into extreme poverty, that is, living on less than $1.90 a day.

Africa needs equitable access to vaccines to prevent further lockdowns, job losses and school closures, said the charities, which included the Pan-African Fight Inequality Alliance and the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.

“Without the vaccine, the pandemic will be prolonged on the continent. Africa will be in a pandemic state for the next four or five years,” warned Mwanahamisi Singano, programme manager from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

“If we don’t have the vaccine, we are extending the pandemic phase and all the evil that we have seen come with it.”

Western nations have celebrated the COVAX facility – a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine-sharing programme to aid developing nations – which has so far delivered approximately 2 million doses to a handful of African countries.

But the charities said COVAX was far from an acceptable solution as it would only result in 20% of the population in those countries being vaccinated by the end of the year.