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Premiere of KENYAN CHRISTIAN QUEER

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This coming Friday (31 July 2020) is the world premiere of the film Kenyan Christian Queer: Struggle for Faith, Hope and Love, directed by Aiwan Obinyan. 

You can see the trailer here

For an earlier Shiloh post on the book of the name Kenyan, Christian, Queer, by Adriaan van Klinken, see here.

About this Event:

Is it possible to be African, Christian and queer? The members of the first LGBTQ church in Nairobi Kenya certainly believe so. The Cosmopolitan Affirming Community (CAC) seeks to promote an inclusive and progressive form of Christianity, in the midst of a rather conservative society.

The screening link will be live from 9am to 12midnight (Eastern Africa Time/Kenya Time) with a live Q&A at 2pm BST (= British Summer Time) / 4pm EAT (= Eastern Africa Time) / 9am EST (= Eastern Standard Time).

The Q&A will feature:

  • Aiwan Obinyan (Film Director)
  • Pastor David Ochar (CAC)
  • Bishop Joseph Tolton 
  • Prophetess Jacinta Nzilani 

Book your ticket now, to receive the link & password for the secure film screening and Q&A.

You can book your free tickets here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kenyan-christian-queer-premiere-tickets-113871003236?aff=CACAdriaanTFAM

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Introducing…The Shiloh Podcast!

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The Shiloh Podcast has arrived!

Rosie Dawson, award-winning journalist, theologian, and host of The Shiloh Podcast shines a light on the stories and practices of religion that either contribute to or resist rape culture. Through conversations with scholars and practitioners, the podcast invites us all to think about ways that we can challenge and dismantle rape culture in our own communities.

Feast your ears on our new trailer and introductory episode, where Rosie discusses the origins of The Shiloh Project with Katie Edwards, one of the project’s co-directors.

Don’t forget to review, rate and subscribe to be notified of new episodes.

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Q&A with Nancy Tan, author of Resisting Rape Culture: The Hebrew Bible and Hong Kong Sex Workers

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Nancy Nam Hoon Tan has featured as activist on the Shiloh Project. From Singapore, where she is now resident, she taught Hebrew Bible at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her published work demonstrates acute sensitivity to power dynamics, focusing particularly on the intersections and tensions between gender, ethnicity and notions of belonging. Nancy’s earlier work showcasing this includes her monograph The ‘Foreignness’ of the Foreign Woman in Proverbs 1-9 (De Gruyter 2008) and her chapter on women, colonialism and whiteness in The Bible, Centres and Margins (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2018).

Her latest book is in the Routledge Focus Series Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible. Entitled Resisting Rape Culture: The Hebrew Bible and Hong Kong Sex Workers (2020), this a tour de force combining scholarship and advocacy.

Here is a Q&A with Nancy…

1. Tell us about yourself! How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

For many years I was based in Hong Kong, where I taught and researched the Hebrew Bible. I opine that interpretations of biblical texts, both by academics and by faith communities, matter— maybe especially for individuals and communities who use the Bible to guide how they should behave and act. But the Bible and how it is interpreted also has bearing on society well beyond this – maybe more so than we think.

Most of my work has focused in some way on women, gender, power and oppression – and this book is no exception.

While living in Hong Kong, I volunteered as a teacher of English at the Jei Jei Jai Association (JJJ), the city’s first self-help and independent organization run by sex workers. This opened up for me the opportunity to get to know the sex workers as friends and to learn about their profession. This engagement also confirmed for me that the current interpretations of biblical texts on “prostitutes” and “prostitution” promote stigmatization and victimization of today’s sex workers.

With the help of Ms Sherry Hui, the co-ordinator for JJJ, I was able to hold the reading exercises on biblical texts with the sex workers that are at the heart of this book. It was Professor Johanna Stiebert who invited me to contribute the outcomes of these reading exercises in the framework of “rape culture”. Indeed, this couldn’t have been more apt, because the injustices that Hong Kong sex workers are subjected to stem from rape culture. And so… here is the book!  

2. What are the key arguments of this book?

First, this book debunks rape myths such as: “sex workers cannot get raped”, “sex workers are immoral and deserve punishment”, and “if women don’t resist, they aren’t really raped”, etc. The book shows how such rape myths contribute to the escalating violence that Hong Kong sex workers are facing.

Second, the book also shows that biblical scholars rarely consider how certain biblical texts and interpretations of them, too, promote stigmatization of today’s sex workers and rape culture. This is thrown into relief by engaging Hong Kong sex workers in the reading and analysis of three biblical texts of the Hebrew Bible where the Hebrew root word znh, often translated as “prostitute” occurs: namely, Genesis 38, 1 Kings 3:16–28 and Hosea 1–3. Each reading unpacks where rape culture and the stigmatization of sex workers lie and through the sex workers’ standpoints, these texts are revealed in a new light.   

3. What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

I hope readers will see the humanity and dignity of sex workers. Sex workers deserve to be respected in every way, and the hatred that society has mounted against them is cruel and unjust. I hope this book will change the way we talk about and the way we treat sex workers. 

I also hope that this book will persuade readers that interpretations of the Bible need to be re-evaluated. I hope it will encourage readers to ask themselves, “Do interpretations do justice to marginalized communities today? Do they promote hatred and reinforce oppression?”

I hope readers will be informed and come to realise how subtle and dangerous rape myths can be: rape myths find support from biblical texts, and, consequently, biblical texts can become justifications for violence against humanity.  

4. Give us one quotation from your book that you think will make readers go and want to read the rest!

“One of the sex workers disagreed with the statements the others made concerning women’s decision to return to abusive men because of the children. … She would not allow anyone to harm her in this way and would rather lose her life to fight for freedom. …She said if women would not protest against such wicked threats on their lives, then the children would not learn to fight for what is right and just. In this way, cycles of abuse continue. She regretted that that is how abusive men keep oppressing women…” Find it and read the rest!

Nancy Tan

Nancy’s book is available for pre-order (see here) and will be dispatched by 1 September.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Antonia McGrath

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COVID-19’s impact on educate. and life in Honduras

Tell us about yourself. What have you been doing and what are you working on during this COVID-19 lock-in. 

I’m one of the directors of a non-profit called educate. that supports community-driven educational projects in Honduras. We’re a volunteer-run charity, with a team in Honduras and a team in Amsterdam (where I live), so we are quite used to communicating digitally, but both sides of our work are being deeply affected by everything that’s going on at the moment. Here in Amsterdam, our fundraising has had to shift because we’ve had to call off all our fundraising events, and in Honduras many people in our community have lost their whole household incomes due to the lockdown, with no government safety net to provide support. Personally, I’m spending a lot of time on the phone with people across Honduras, especially our teachers and community project leaders, as well as supporting our Amsterdam team in shifting our work online. I also work as an au pair here in Amsterdam, so I’m doing home-schooling with three little kids on the side!

In Honduras, the government has imposed a strict and total lockdown: people are allowed outside once per week in a time block decided by their ID number, but the country has a 66% poverty rate and a huge informal sector, so for many people a lockdown means no way to put food on the table. That includes several members of our team in Honduras, so we sent some emergency funds over last week.

In general, though, I am struck by the positivity and resilience in the conversations I have with our community in Honduras. I think it comes from the fact that we work with a lot of teachers, and teachers are just the kind of people who are always supporting people, always looking for ways to rally together and make things work – especially a lot of the teachers we work with, who are used to working with limited resources and in tough conditions. They are endlessly driven and dedicated to the wellbeing and education of their students. Even without internet access and in some cases even electricity, teachers are making sure their students are safe and can continue learning even with everything that is going on.

Here in Amsterdam, things are, in many ways, more straightforward. We’ve have had to call off all our fundraising events for the upcoming months, but our team has been coming up with different ways to make sure we continue to raise the necessary funds for our ongoing projects, and to support our community through this time. I feel incredibly lucky to lead a team that has been so positive in coming together to make quick and often logistically difficult changes. Our grants team have expanded, our events team are taking our whole six-month event programme online, we’ve launched an emergency crowdfunding campaign that our community has been so generous in supporting, and our schools team who usually organise school-based service learning and fundraising partnerships, are working on a postcard project using student artwork from Honduras. I’m mostly focused on coordinating everything and leading our online communications across our different platforms – making sure we continue to share what we’re doing, telling stories from our projects, finding ways to raise awareness about the situation in Honduras, and promoting our fundraising campaigns and online events.

Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project? 

At the moment, we are sharing a lot of videos on our social media channels from parents, teachers, students and project leaders from our community across Honduras, who are talking about their experiences, giving advice, and sharing some words of solidarity. For us it’s a great way not only to raise awareness about the situation in Honduras, but to strengthen our community through these shared stories on our platform.

We also have a blog that has some interesting articles on it about our work, which supporters of the Shiloh Project might find interesting.

How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?

educate. is all about community and community leadership, so we’ve been finding ways to keep our community strong despite being physically isolated from one another. We’ve been talking with our student and teacher community across Honduras more than ever, asking people to share photos and videos about what they are up to, and making collaborative video messages to share.

One of the teachers at a school we work with in Honduras, in a small village called Las Lagunas, asked if we could make a video from our Amsterdam team for her students sharing some advice and words of encouragement, so we got all the Spanish speakers on our Amsterdam team to record a message and we put them together for the kids in Las Lagunas. We’ve had photos and videos back from several of the students and people there. So we’re really trying to stay connected, and make sure everyone knows they’re not alone in this, even though our experiences may be vastly different.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Series: Mmapula Kebaneilwe

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A Bit about myself:

I am Mmapula Diana Kebaneilwe, a Womanist scholar and Senior Lecturer of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at the University of Botswana. I did my PhD with the University of Murdoch in Western Australia, and completed in 2012. The title of my Thesis was “This Courageous Woman: A Socio-rhetorical Womanist Reading of Proverbs 31:10-31.” (The thesis can be found online here.) I have a wide range of research interests, including; women and the Bible; HIV, Aids, the Bible and women; women, gender and the Bible; the Bible and environmental issues; rape culture, gender and the Bible. Above all, my keen interest concerns gender justice and hence, researching on issues relating to women is important to me. The quest stems from my own context, which is patriarchal and marred by gender-based violence.

What I have been up-to during the COVID 19 Lock-in

To be honest, COVID 19 has left me confused, worried and without motivation or energy to do much. However, as the lock-in proceeds into the third week in my country (Botswana), I seem to be unstiffening a bit and I guess I am now getting accustomed to my ‘new normal’ of being just at home. I believe I am also getting to grips with the current reality and learning to live with the fact that the entire world is faced with a pandemic and everyone is affected in some way or other. On a more positive note, I have been doing what I enjoy most, which is gardening. I have started a small vegetable garden, which I have mixed with my usual plants and flowers that I tend every day. I find this very healing to my soul.

I also have a lot of academic work to do during this time (much of it is backlog from a few months ago). The work includes co-editing for a volume on ‘Mother Earth’, a book project, which is a collaboration with different scholars who presented papers at the 2019 Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, held in Gaborone, Botswana. I am also working on my book, which is adapted from my PhD thesis and which has come back from a second round of the review process, just a few days ago. I have also received back reviews for a chapter that I am contributing to a project on #Jesus Too, edited by Jayme Reaves and David Tombs.

Aspects of my work, past and present that might of interest to the Shiloh Project supporters?

I think some of my work that might be of interest to supporters of the Shiloh Project may include first, my PhD Thesis (2012). This is so because in that I explore some of the issues that relate to the intersection between, the Bible, culture (in this case Botswana culture) and women. Attention is paid to the portrayal of a woman in rather strong and affirmative ways in Proverbs 31:10-31. Such is not commonplace in the Bible. I bring the portrait into engagement with how women are treated in my culture, especially in relation to their male counterparts and in relation to marginalization and disadvantages for women on different levels. My conclusion is that the text of Proverbs 31:10-31 unapologetically advocates for gender equality.

Another of my past works that may be of interest is an article titled “The Vashti Paradigm: Resistance as a Strategy for Combating HIV.” Ecumenical Review 63/4 (2011): 378-384. As the title suggests, in this article I see Vashti, a female character in the biblical book of Esther, as a heroine. Her subversiveness and defiance in the face of male oppressive authority celebrates her dignity as a woman. I advocate that Vashti can speak also to those who find themselves in similar situations of oppression. My conclusion is that despite the potential danger in challenging oppressive systems, cultures and contexts, like Vashti did, ‘it is never too late to say no to oppression’. 

A forthcoming article might also be of interest, “The Untold Story of Mrs Noah: The Hebrew Bible, Gender and Media: An Intertextual Critical Discourse Analysis.” This is forthcoming in the BOLESWA Journal of Theology (2020 sometime). This piece is co-authored with a colleague and friend, Dr Sibonile  E. Ellece, from the English Department of the University of Botswana. We try to reconstruct the life story of the wife of Noah. We argue that because of its androcentric nature, the Bible tends to omit the stories of many women, including that of Noah’s wife. We call the otherwise unnamed woman ‘Mrs Noah’ in order to problematize the un-naming, which not only obscures but virtually erases her identity. Our conclusion is that in our patriarchal contexts, too, women often suffer from a lack of media coverage, conveying the sense that their stories do not really matter, at least not as much as men’s stories. But in reconstructing Mrs Noah’s story, using intertextual critical discourse analysis, we maintain that she was a woman of courage: a wife, a mother, a home-builder and Noah’s pillar. She, too, like her legendary husband, must have professed strong faith, ensuring her survival and that of her family, while most of the entire world perished.

What is helping me most during this unprecedented time of COVID 19?

Like I mentioned before, gardening and decorating my home is something I enjoy doing. I spent my first day of lockdown painting one of the rooms in the house. I love it. I then started spending mornings and evenings doing some gardening, which includes planting vegies, trimming duranta plants, cultivating the soil around my little roses and other flowers, and just cleaning the yard – stuff I often do not have much time to do under normal circumstances. I have since been doing some yoga and pilates each evening in order to stretch my otherwise aching joints. This has been very helpful and is making me feel good, both physically and emotionally. I have now added some skipping rope exercises where I do 300 skips a day and that makes me feel fantastic. Of course, I am also trying to stay away from frequent visits to the kitchen and the fridge for some nibbles, because though these are particularly accessible ‘places’ currently (given the stringent restrictions on movement) it is not such a good idea to spend too much time there.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Dawn Llewellyn

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I’ve never used the phrase ‘these are strange times’ as often as I have over the past few weeks! On the day my Department closed its doors, I went into my third year class at 2pm and when it ended at 3.30pm, I was told we were being sent home and had to leave the building by 6 o’clock. I quickly grabbed books and papers that I thought I might need, rescued my office plants, and colleagues and students said goodbye to each other without the usual hugging! For the final year undergraduates, they have been deprived of the traditional ‘end of year’ closure – the stress and celebrations that go along with writing up dissertations and their last assessments, and all  students felt the abrupt end to the academic term. In some ways, I’m enjoying working from home, pottering in our small back yard, undertaking a bit of DIY, doing on-line exercise classes, keeping up with household chores that never get done (yep, the skirting boards and shower tiles are gleaming), but I know it is a privilege to live with my partner, Bran, and for us to be relatively safe and secure, and to continue working. I am, of course, missing our lively Department and the bustle and business of term time, but we’re staying in touch with virtual coffee every day (we do this in real time too!). I’m so impressed and heartened by the way our students are adapting and coping with studying at home, some of them in challenging and very difficult circumstances during a very anxious time for them and their families. They are supporting each other and us  brilliantly,  and with good humour that brightens up the day. Yesterday, during a 3rd year catch up on TEAMS, two of them turned up with superimposed images of Trump and Johnson on their heads…they sort of know my left-leaning politics.

Like everyone, my usual routine is out of kilter. This coincided with the spring vacation, when I took some annual leave and switched off email, admin, and writing for a week or so.  In January, we had arranged to remodel our kitchen during March and April, and before the lockdown we had ripped out our existing cupboards and cabinets, and unplugged the dishwasher and oven; it’s a shell of a room at the moment. For five weeks we’ve been cooking on a two-ring camping stove on our living room floor, washing up outside, and contributing heavily to the local Chester foodie scene by relying on the places that are offering take-aways. I keep telling myself we’re glamping and it’s an ‘adventure’.

I’ve got a few projects on the go. I’m working on a chapter on methodology in the study of religion and gender for a Handbook edited by Emma Tomalin https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/142/professor-emma-tomalin and Caroline Starkey https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/1161/dr-caroline-starkey  – I’m a qualitative researcher so enjoy getting my methodological geek on. My new book, Motherhood, Voluntary Childlessness, and Christianity explores women’s religious reproductive agency in Christianity and their narratives and experiences of ‘choice’,  and I’ll be getting that finished for Bloomsbury during my research leave later on this year. I’m also working with Sian Hawthorne https://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff31080.php and Sonya Sharma https://www.kingston.ac.uk/staff/profile/dr-sonya-sharma-57/ on the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality series https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/series/bloomsbury-studies-in-religion-gender-and-sexuality/ , and we’ve just launched a call for chapters for a new Bloomsbury Handbook on Religion, Gender, and Sexuality that we are editing together. We’d be delighted if Shiloh readers and members considered contributing! https://bloomsburyreligiongender.wordpress.com/

How am I coping? Well, I’m a swimmer and usually train about 4 times a week. April is the start of the open water swimming season when the rivers, lakes, and seas start to warm up enough to stretch out in ‘skins’ (just a swimming costume, no wetsuit). Normally, I’d be prepping for  5km and 10km events in the summer but instead I have taken up some surprising hobbies. I’ve started taking our friend’s dog, Sidney, for walks (they’ve just had a baby) and have found him to be an excellent listener as I talk at him (he’s great on career advice); I’ve discovered Radio 3; I have found out that I really like trashy TV (Making the Cut and Next in Fashion, anyone?); I’ve bought a hoola hoop; and I’ve completed a jigsaw. I barely know myself.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview: Susannah Cornwall

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Tell us about yourself.

I’m Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter. I’m the author of various books on Christian theology, sexuality and gender, of which the most recent is Un/familiar Theology: Rethinking Sex, Reproduction and Generativity (Bloomsbury, 2017).

What have you been doing and are you able to work during this COVID-19 lock-in?

I’m Director of Education with responsibility for all our undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes in Theology and Religion and Liberal Arts at Exeter, so this has been a spectacularly busy time, working out details of changes to assessments and exams, moving teaching online, and ever-changing contingency planning in response to the latest advice. We are also working out what will happen with admissions over the summer, and helping our students with a wide range of academic and pastoral issues raised or exacerbated by coronavirus. As ever, I’m in awe at their resilience, patience and good humour.

Work from home is really challenging now that it also involves full-time childcare: my husband (also an academic) and I are doing alternate work and childcare shifts. I’m fortunate to be in an institution that has made clear that it appreciates these are exceptional circumstances and that something has to give, and is encouraging us to prioritize our own and our dependents’ wellbeing. I have colleagues elsewhere who are being told that the expectation is that there’s no drop to their productivity during this time, which is terribly unrealistic and inhumane. However, there’s no getting around the fact that a constantly shifting mode and getting no uninterrupted time to work is going to have knock-on effects, and I hope institutions are going to take seriously the fact that there are equality, diversity and inclusion implications to all this that will impact on many academics’ pay, progression and job security for years to come.

Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?

I’m currently working on a constructive theology of gender diversity, and coronavirus is highlighting the fact that lots of the precarities trans people face are even more heightened in a pandemic. These are extreme times and big decisions are being made centrally for the sake of what we’re told is a common good, but of course there’s going to be collateral damage. This is a time when life looks almost unrecognizable, so there are all kinds of possibilities. People are learning about ways of life they didn’t know before; new relationships are being forged that didn’t exist before. So that’s exciting, but it also means there’s even more marginality and precarity than there was before.

But it’s an opportunity, too. When the world goes back to normal (will the world ever go back to normal?) what will gender look like? How will things be for trans and intersex people? What do all of us, cis and trans, endosex and intersex, want to carry over into our new world?

How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?

I have it so much easier than many people: I have secure employment, a safe place to live, more than enough food, a garden, internet, and more. I live within walking distance of green fields and the edge of countryside. I’ve started running again. I’m enjoying doing more “slow cooking” (but not slow-cooking!) than normal, and my son is revelling in having everyone at home. He’s very used to one or other parent being away for several days or having had to leave early before he gets up in the morning. So I’m enjoying the fact that he’s enjoying it! I think I’ll also look back with gratitude at having had this unexpected extra time with him at home every day before he starts school in the autumn.

I love the small creative acts of kindness that people are doing around the neighbourhood: setting up WhatsApp groups to ensure everyone is okay and has enough shopping; some kids in the next road have set up a pop-up library (with hand sanitizer!) outside their house; people have been chalking murals and adventure trails on the pavement for children to enjoy during their walks; someone has made their front garden into a safari zoo with toy snakes, orangutans, birds and big cats to spot. All that said, I’m also finding it really hard. I feel sad that my son is missing out on so much time with his friends and amazing teachers. I’m feeling lethargic, powerless, and like I have only just enough energy to tread water and survive, when I somehow want to be making the most of this weird time. I’m feeling frustrated that I’m too exhausted to be creative or generative, or even think about grand schemes like “theology in the time of coronavirus”. I’m feeling angry that it’s taken this situation for people to realize how scandalous it is that nurses, care workers, supermarket workers, food producers and distributors are the people on whom society really relies and yet continue to be underpaid and badly treated.

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Professor Cheryl Anderson: Why #MeToo Matters for LGBT Inclusion

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Cheryl B. Anderson is professor of the Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Earlier in her career, she was a practicing attorney with the federal government in Washington, D.C.

Professor Anderson is also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church (Baltimore-Washington Conference). She is the author of Women, Ideology, and Violence (T&T Clark, 2004) and Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies (Oxford University Press, 2009). Her current research interests involve contextual and liberationist readings of Scripture in the age of HIV and AIDS.

In the video below, Professor Anderson explains why #MeToo matter for LGBT inclusion.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview: Laurie Lyter Bright

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Since shelter in place began in Wisconsin, I’ve been balancing pastoring a church through a virtual Lent and now Holy Week, executive directing a non-profit that supports peace-building through interfaith schools in Palestine and Israel, working on my dissertation, and keeping two very small children alive and happy. My husband’s a full time grad student in nursing, so our days are full. Work takes place in the margins around our new reality, and maybe that’s closer to where work should have always been in terms of priorities. I’m surprised by how the preciousness of time has been illuminated in this crisis.  When writing can only happen between the start of nap time and lunch, you learn to write very efficiently.

My dissertation work emphasizes the role of the Christian church (particularly U.S. manifestations thereof) in co-creating rape culture and is seeking ways for the church to be a part of disrupting rape culture instead. My new work in progress for the Shiloh Project series with Routledge Focus is exploring the role of the prophetic in both the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.  Getting to interview and collaborate with scholars in these fields has been an absolute privilege and I’m grateful for the access to technology that allows me to keep moving forward on both projects even in a time of lock-down!

I am running the full gamut of feelings in this season and allowing myself space for all of those emotions is what’s keeping me going.  I am profoundly thankful – that my family are healthy, that my kids are too young to be scared by what’s happening, that my partner is also my best friend, that my work can be reasonably accomplished remotely, etc.  I am profoundly sad – at the loss of life, the co-morbidity of the weight of poverty and racism in my country, the suffering that was preventable, and more. I am angry – at the pathetic excuse for leadership in my government, at our collective fear responses. I am proud – of the community spirit that rises above, the difficult but necessary questions and conversations that are rising to the surface.  And I am baking right up to the edge of an unhealthy amount of cookies.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview: Tom Muyunga Mukasa

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Tom Muyunga Mukasa is originally from Uganda. He was resettled as a refugee in the USA. He is currently in Kenya. Tom is HIV Care and Global Health Specialist; Manager of the House of Rainbow HIV/AIDS Protection and Advocacy Consortium; and Co-founder of Advocacy Network Africa (AdNetA). He works towards enshrining human dignity by leading a number of campaigns. These are aimed at refugee integration and protection in host communities, the elimination of violence against women, the promotion of wellness that integrates Universal Health Coverage (UHC), and at ending TB, HIV & Malaria by 2030. AdNetA is also active in the campaign to end COVID-19.

  1. Tell us about yourself and about what you’re doing and what you’re working on and how, during this COVID-19 lock-in.

Thank you so much. Right now I am in Nairobi. In August 2019, I came here to Kenya as a student volunteer from St Mary’s College of California, USA. I went to do volunteer work in Nyeri Town, which is about 200 kilometers from Nairobi. I lived at St. Mary’s Boys’ Vocational Rescue Centre and Secondary School up to November 2019. This is a combined vocational and rehabilitation school for boys aged 3-20 years. I facilitated the establishment and development of community organisation frameworks that enable Lasallian Volunteers to participate in effective change activities during their African experience tours. (La Salle, or the Lasallians are a Catholic order established in 1679 by John Baptist de La Salle. Today the Lasallians minister to around 900,000 students in universities, schools, educational and welfare institutions in more than 80 countries all over the world.)

While working in Nyeri, my own focus was on the Secondary School and how its communities could engage the large youth population in sports, livelihood, vocational skills and other capacity-building. Together we came up with tailored programmes to provide younger people with opportunities to improve healthy and purposeful living, self-esteem and to avoid  drug-use due to peer pressure and other factors. The Lasallian volunteers helped facilitate these sessions.  I developed a strategic plan for 2019-2025 hinged on economic development, orphan support and rehabilitation. We presented this to the local government and they promised to support it fully. Alongside my volunteering, I was engaging in my own research work in drug-use disorders, conducting fieldwork in three informal settings in Mountain Kenya, Eastern and Central regions. Into this research, I incorporated queer refugee issues. I developed my findings into abstracts, which were accepted by the International AIDS Conference 2020 among other conferences.  I had worked on preparing twelve presenters, all, like me, queer refugees. All abstracts were accepted and we were rearing to go! But… COVID-19 restrictions are now in force here in Kenya and the conference will be held via virtual sessions.

Fast forward to lock-down, or lock-in here where I am now, in the Matasia zone of Ngong in Kajiado County on the outskirts of Nairobi. It is one of the largest, most urbanized and most densely populated areas of Kenya. Right now I am managing a community health awareness programme run by volunteer refugees. Some refugees are now resettled in Kenya, others are waiting to be resettled in a third party country. But, they agreed to work with me and have brought into the campaign their lovers, friends and acquaintances. Our campaign is growing in numbers! At the core are people I had earlier identified as key-Informants. While we were still able to do research work or data collection in the field, I found 7 persons living with TB whom I immediately connected to health care facilities. I had some little money on me and provided them with a month’s supply of food. All 7 are now 4 months along a steady healing process.  These 7 enabled us to penetrate deeper into their networks and we have linked more and more TB patients to care and hope to continue with this.

As a trained infectious diseases specialist, when I heard of this particular kind of infection, rumbling across from China to other places, I knew I had to act fast. There was no way Africa would escape! Given the health care facilities as the risks posed by increased hospital attendances, there was much to do, and fast. This is much on my mind.  We have been able to secure 4 months’ medication supply for the TB patients. Those who are HIV positive were also given the same amount of medication. This is called aligning medication supply. I connected patients to AMREF, Red Cross, different CSOs and local government hospitals where they are now getting more support beyond what I could provide. 

I am now embarking on training mobilisers to become Anti-TB Champions and I am integrating COVID-19 Response and Prevention into this campaign. What I have not yet mentioned is that I am connected with the Switzerland-based WHO division on TB. I engaged with them and advocated on behalf of TB patients back in November-December 2019 already. I did it because I felt my voice could add to finding ways to meet their needs. I even wrote a concept note on TB prevention. I felt I owed the communities I had visited during data collection. I wanted to give back in a small way. So, I have designed what we call the TB Prevention Communities of best practices. This is an iterative model with 15 steps that is both pedagogical and a heuristic.

The best practices are hinged on: Identification, Participation, Access, Hygiene, Adherence and Self-Esteem (IPAHAS). When a patient is identified, the Anti-TB Champions catalyze full participation of the person to be evaluated for TB, going through all the nine yards from testing to taking medication for the first crucial 8 weeks and then beyond. The Champions help with access to housing, nutrition, transport and with medication not being disrupted. Given the present situation, we have had to adapt, so I have shown them how to use WhatsApp groups and Facebook or Zoom to communicate, inform and educate. 

Most of our TB and HIV patients live in one-room houses.  We got lucky in that the organisations we linked patients to have provided food rations, masks and aromatic detergents, which they can use to wipe surfaces, clean toilets and bed pans or night pails. The practices for helping people with TB and compromised immunity also help with limiting the spread of COVID-19. I have come to note that COVID-19 restrictions are now making it easier for TB patients to be less stigmatised. Wearing masks no longer leads to stigma: it no longer signifies disease but precaution, self-care and care for others. The sweet-smelling detergents have made the dwelling places less unpleasant. Food is shared around in these hard times – because life is restricted and hard for everyone just now.  (I have written a short perspective report intimating  this tendency.) I am sure the Anti-TB Champions continue to be motivated, not least because they are receiving food rations too and they are helping one another, as well as relatives and friends. 

Personally, I am staying in, as instructed. I am concentrating my efforts and trying to keep expenses to a minimum. I am training my teams via zoom, video calls and email instructions. I continue my work as Social Justice Practitioner in whatever way I can. Motivated by the UN SDGs, I focus on a range of community activities, focusing most on conservation, Universal Health Coverage (UHC), elimination of violence against women and on ending TB, HIV, and Malaria by 2030. These are all connected. But now, I am also integrating COVID-19 into my work, because this is pressing. I make virtual work activities and share them online. I have become busier while I am following up my patients from home.

  • You have added COVID-19 to your earlier campaigns which included preventing transmission of TB, HIV and Malaria. You also have years of experience of advocacy for LGBT rights and you are passionate about ending gender-based and sexual violence. Tell us more. What drives you and what do you do?

Ha-ha! Professor Johanna, I am humbled by the statement and question. A long time ago in Uganda as a younger medical student I volunteered with the Rotary Club. We were taken to an island far into Lake Victoria to popularise immunization and digging and using latrines. You know, we were young and from the ivory tower. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. We were given this opportunity to see the world’s realities and to relate them to our book learning.  

I was touched and after my return asked to be included on a list of those who would volunteer regularly. Little did I know that this was preparing me to polish my social face of medicine! This was a time when almost everything was ‘medicalised’, if you get what I mean. There was an expectation that medication was the solution to so many things, a whole laundry-list of issues. Not all of these, however, actually required medication (tablets, drops, operations…) at all. They were health matters but what they needed was something else. I’m talking about such things as domestic abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, husbands using up their wives’ savings and giving the lame excuses of ‘I am the man of the house: I do as I like!’  I was a witness during a meeting in which a woman had brought a case against her husband. Guess what it was about, Professor? The woman had come to report the husband for not beating her when she made any mistake like when they had just met! No, seriously Professor! Her expectation was that when your husband beats you, it means they love you and when they ignore you, it means they have someone else who is special (enough to be beaten). 

I come from a family of nine mothers and many children. I know so many other families like mine. I think I was made an activist subconsciously, without realizing it, through my close relationships with women and children, who often suffer the brunt of patriarchal violence. Or, maybe, I am correcting things, or reconstructing things and it is just plain rebelliousness on my part! My passion about ending gender-based and sexual violence is rooted in what I grew up seeing at home, in my communities, in wider African society. It is rooted too in my joining the organizing committee of a San Francisco-based Women’s March, where I have served since 2013.

Professor, knowing you and how you guided us in sharing real lived stories [for the report, see here. Tom is in the picture, wearing a crown], I am dwelling so far on the positive side of things. Let me share how it might have begun as well. I knew I had to be part of the solution to put a stop to the mentality that women are regarded as inferior. But funnily enough, in my earlier days, being male, not White, and without money, in Africa, I met with the most vehement of barriers. Being a male, people, including women, called me names whenever I appeared in meetings on women’s and girl children’s rights. You should have been there! But hey, they did not know me that well. I am a very determined and different male but they did not know this at first. So, I just went on doing my work. Well, to cut a long story short I am here still and I am a social justice practitioner among many other hats I wear.

Thank you so much for supporting my work. You know and have seen me at the frontline where you have been as well. I am sure all your faculty colleagues are ‘radicals’ (ooooops, sshh, do not say I said this!) But, what I mean, is that on behalf of many others, thank you so much for coming into our lives. You asked what drives me. I enjoy passing on skills to others and to see them turn into self-driven actors too. This takes patience and guidance but when results start showing, I go to bed and sleep like a log. I have seen the people I train become the better version of who they could be. I have seen transformation manifest before me. I have witnessed people who gain the skills, change into adopting healthy practices and behaviours. They turned out to be recognised and this increased their being dependable and admired by others who work with them. It is this that drives me! Thanks.

  • How you bearing up and what is helping you, or would help you, most?

Professor, is this a trick question?  But, let me answer it as I feel it in my heart and belly. I am scared. My life has had so many turns and all of them following each other in sequence. I am not a biblical Job! I am just a Black male striving to be good. I want to be a scholar and not a raw field epidemiologist, for crying out loud.  I made a decision to improve myself scholarly-wise and chose to take on the discipline of Political Science. I hope to complete every requisite and to be taken on to a PhD programme (they write ‘program’, that other side of the Atlantic) at Princeton University. I was given a promissory letter and the conditions I need to fulfill. Part of my coming to Kenya to do community work, was to prepare me and give me an advantage to get into Princeton. I am competing with 45 others but I am not scared at all.

But now, COVID-19 has come along. I am wondering how I can return to the USA, say in December 2020! These things go on and on and they require vaccines. Nothing else can hurry things along! For now, I have tried to put all my worries aside and have engaged in anti-infection activities with which I am so very familiar, given my earlier, medical incarnation. I am helping a team here and more people, too, via phone. I have written perspective reports which are read widely and I am so happy there is a sector that asks for my opinion.

Professor,  I know I am going to be here until December. I have given myself that period. Keep the Shiloh Project moving please, we read it here. By the way, I also follow your University of Leeds Faculty colleagues via Twitter. I like the themes you cover. They are so heart-tugging, they make one realise how comfortable they have been to the point of exuding a self-righteous air about them, and they are so ‘radical’.  I realise I am slowly learning to effectively ask questions that make our society more involved in healing.  Maybe one day I shall ask to come there as an exchange student to sit down and get trained or just converse! Thank you.

[From Johanna: Tom, we need you here! You could give us a good dose of reality and maybe wake us up to and make us embarrassed about our self-righteous airs. Thank you for giving some insight into much greater struggles than most of us contend with. If you do come over as an exchange student, I will keep you busy with speaking engagements. Be well, be safe, and thank you so much for your words.]

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