Evangel grad student counsels children with albinism
March 30, 2012 | Evangel University News
Sarah Jarvis recently traveled to Tanzania, Africa, to serve as a counselor for children with albinism as part of her master’s degree program at Evangel University.
While serving in Tanzania, she was supervised via Skype by Dr. Grant Jones, psychology professor at Evangel.
Having grown up in East Africa as the daughter of Assemblies of God missionaries, Jarvis was already familiar with Tanzanian culture. Her parents, Tim and Joyce Jarvis, are still serving there and work extensively with those affected by albinism.
Albinism is an inherited condition characterized by a lack of pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair. It is much more prevalent in Tanzania than in the U.S.
Over the 2½ months Jarvis was there, she saw that life is grim for these children.
Ancient superstitions lead many East Africans to believe that children with albinism possess special magical powers; therefore, they are hunted, mutilated and murdered in order for their body parts to be made into amulets and potions by witch doctors.
Women who deliver albino babies are often abandoned by their husbands and shunned by their families. Less than 2 percent of Tanzanian people with albinism live past age 40.
“Tanzanians with albinism are a unique subculture with their own distinctive needs and norms. To my knowledge, no one has ever worked with this people group on a therapeutic level,” said Jarvis. “Counseling is a completely new concept for Tanzanians.”
Jarvis’ work included performing psychoeducational services and trauma and grief counseling for the children. Because psychotherapy is a rarity in Tanzania, her work was often very challenging.
The children at the orphanage were also screened for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was so proud of the children. Though at times what I asked of them was uncomfortable, they pushed themselves and allowed themselves to be vulnerable,” she says. “They were happy with any love and attention I could give them.”
Written by Anna Lester, Evangel University sophomore Communication Studies major