Inclusivity in Zambia: Memory's Changemaker Journey
This story was written by Madelyn Atkins and edited for length and clarity.
Memory Tapela Banda, a twenty-one-year-old changemaker from Zambia, has dedicated her years of life to helping other people. Memory has always made it her mission to be sure everyone always felt included. Inspired by her role model Oprah Winfrey, Memory hoped to embody the strength displayed by her she says, “She just stands there and speaks for herself, and stands to help others and is amazing.”
As a young child, Memory states that the word ‘difference’, “was never in my vocabulary because I noticed everyone was just like me. Yes, we might have different appearances, but that’s how it should be.” In school, she studied special education and sign language in hopes of becoming a special education teacher one day, which is a group of educators her country is severely lacking. She also volunteered with multiple community organizations in her teen years. It was these beliefs and experiences which fostered a fiery passion for Memory, leading her to her current role as a community activist and educator.
Growing up, the house just behind Memory's was occupied by “a lovely family with two wonderful twin daughters.” She quickly befriended these girls and they spent most afternoons playing together. However, Memory soon noticed that no other children in the community wanted to play with them. Parents would forbid their children from playing with the girls.
Memory questioned why these parents were so hesitant. She talked with her own mother, and Memory learned that it was because both of the girls experience albinism, a condition affecting the production of melanin in their skin, hair, and eyes. Memory recalls her neighbors making “ridiculous” claims that discriminate against people with albinism, such as that being around these children means that other children “would end up having children with albinism later in life, or they would develop albinism themselves."
Throughout her teen years, Memory witnessed this discrimination negatively affect her dear friends as well as other children living with this condition daily. In Zambia, Memory sees an abundance of stigmatization around people with albinism. Some people, Memory shares, “even believe they are cursed individuals and participate in the ritualistic killing of albinos.” Appalled, Memory’s close relationship with her neighbors led her to decide to find a solution.
Memory launch a youth-led venture called Zambian Albinism Matters. She shares, “We help to create a platform for people so that they can speak for themselves," with the main idea behind the creation of Zambian Albinism Matter in this single sentence. Memory believes “that anybody can speak for themselves, all that is needed to be done is creating a platform, even deaf people have their language!"
The organization focuses on several community programs, including organizing protests, providing housing and necessities for individuals with albinism, helping children to attend school, teaching resource classes, helping families to receive proper health care, and providing people with sunscreen and glasses, both of which are vital to skin health. Of these, Memory is particularly fond of her organization's resource classes, “I find that most children with albinism grow up with low self-esteem. Really it often starts with their families because discrimination is everywhere.”
In their classes, children and parents alike can learn to be secure in their own identity and find their voice to speak on the issues of albino individuals. She states, “education is so important it is [sometimes] the only microphone [people] can use for their future.”
Memory relies on the support of her family, particularly her mom. Her mother often introduces Memory to families she meets on the street who experience albinism, or anyone she believes her daughter can help. She says, “often people ask my mom on the streets, ‘how does she do it, how does she accomplish all of these things,’ and, just like my mom, I answer each time ‘I don’t know. I just know it is my responsibility to help those who have not yet found their voice’”. While Memory feels very secure today in her position and the impact her organization is having in her community, she remembers the hard journey she endured to unearth that security.
“It is not easy in my country - or Africa as a whole - for young people to be leaders or managers. There is always questioning about how we have the proper permits and whether we are mature enough to be doing this work”. For the first year, Memory and her team ran the organization without any office space or legal permitting. Her team was simply so passionate about this mission that they needed to help their community at all costs.
Memory has established a team of five members and one partner for Zambian Albinism Matters. While she shares this is a relatively small group, the organization garners many volunteers and has active relationships with many other nonprofits in the area. Memory relies on her volunteer connections in her teen years for her current partnerships. The team has also partnered with community schools in hopes to make educational resources more accessible to children with albinism. “They were all super happy to help us out when we needed it, after all, change is about inclusivity we all needed to work together to help our causes.”
This team structure enables everyone to bring their talents and experiences and learn from each other. She shares, “We didn’t want to have a large executive team, because my wish was that everyone could be a leader and experience what it was like to be at the front of a project and making decisions.”
Their age, Memory shares, has been a challenge in sourcing funding, finding a platform to share their work, and generating public support. Oftentimes local advertising would be granted to much older and more developed organizations, and although she made great attempts, it seemed they were never invited to Summits they applied for or asked to speak at events. These barriers made it difficult for Memory to establish herself as a young leader in her community.
While these setbacks can make her work very challenging, Memory always stays positive and often reminds herself, “When I started this I said it is not about me, whatever is going to come will come, but it is not about me it is about creating awareness and changing mindsets.” Memory knows all too well that while she can never completely eradicate the discrimination others face daily, she says “we can see the impact we have on our community with just the little things we are able to do.”
On International Albinism Visibility Day, Memory and her team hosted a charity march to raise money and awareness for albinism. Glowingly, she shares, “It was an amazing experience seeing all these people come together to support these children. We can never be too sure how we are being received because of the nature of our work, but seeing everyone on days like that makes me feel so impactful, and that I am truly doing the work I should."
Memory hopes to see a world where everyone is heard and the voices of minorities are uplifted and truly listened to. “What I would really love to see is more young people working together,” she reflects. There is great strength in numbers and teamwork, which Memory cites as critical to the success of her idea. “Only together can we truly create a better world. We have seen so many organizations now and it is so beautiful.”
Confidently, Memory holds steadfast to the idea that anyone can be a changemaker. She shares, “I believe that change comes in any shape, any form, any age, at any time all the time.” And in an ever-evolving world, she wishes to see people stand their ground and take up all the space they are meant to have.
With big voices exploding from young bodies, she hopes to see major changes in the world, but understand not everything must be monumental, instead, “know that the little things you are doing in your community are making a big difference.” Memory’s story demonstrates that anyone is capable of sparking change in their community regardless of how small or mountainous. She declares, “We all have voices we can use, so why would we want to deprive anyone of that right?”