Oluwatooni Akanni

Oluwatooni "Tooni" Akanni (Gideon Foundation): Tooni was born in Nigeria and raised in Minnesota. She received her BA in Psychology and African Studies from the University of Minnesota in 2008. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her Master’s degree at New York University Center for Global Affairs, concentrating in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance. While at NYU, Tooni also interned at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund. After her fellowship Tooni wrote: “This fellowship has been a life changing experience for me. I see the world in such a completely different way. My field experience can be a book all by itself. I learnt so much information in such a short time in Uganda. What I've learned within this fellowship is invaluable and priceless and it’s something you can't learn from the books or in the classroom.”



Moving Forward After Losing a Loved One: The Story Behind GFACS

05 Jul

The very first time Santos and Leah Labeja held their son Gideon in their arms, they visualized a bright future for him. They had images of him learning how to ride a bike, to flashes of him graduating from college and eventually getting married. In this picture, they had already established a beautiful new world in their mind that will forever include their son. Sadly, the beautiful new world that was created elusively for Gideon was shattered into pieces on December 19th, 2006.

It was just another ordinary weekday for the Labejas. Santos had just arrived into town from a business trip when he and his wife discovered the body of their four-year-old son Gideon by their compound.  A man who lived on Santos’s property had kidnapped Gideon by luring him away from his house using a musical Christmas card. After he murdered Gideon, he cut off parts of his body and then attempted to pluck off his tongue.  The perpetrator was eventually captured but he later escaped from prison. While in custody, he admitted that a witch doctor had told him to bring body parts of a young boy for a ritual ceremony, in an attempt to gain riches and blessings. Till this day, Gideon’s killer continues to roam the streets of Uganda and may still be committing this wicked crime.

At Santos and Leah's house, a picture of Gideon hangs on the wall

 In early 2007, seeing no other alternative of stopping this dastardly practice, Santos and Leah established Gideon Foundation Against Child Sacrifice (GFACS).   They decided to start this organization to put an end to child sacrifice and to advocate for affected families.  GFACS is the only organization in Uganda that is solely fighting child sacrifice.  The main aim of the organization is 1) to diminish the ritual practices of witch doctors in Uganda through advocacy and prevention mechanism 2) to support families who have been affected by child sacrifice 3) to push forward the Ritual Murder Act law (formulated by Santos and his lawyer) that specifically punishes the offenders of child sacrifice.

Last week, I got a chance to seat down and talk face-to-face with the founders of GFACS.  In the first part of my exclusive interview, Santos and Leah spoke to me openly about GFACS, coping with the loss of Gideon, and keeping his memory alive through the organization. The second part of my interview, I sat down solely with Santos to talk about the past, present and future of GFACS. Below is the clip from my interview with Santos.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pllh1EUJpbE&feature=youtu.be

Within GFACS, Santos serves as the Executive Director while Leah assist as an advisor.  The remaining staff members are composed of two volunteers Stella Ibwalingat and Esther Ocom. They are essentially the backbone to the organization. They work side-by-side with the Labejas on the grassroots level by educating and creating awareness on this issue. Together this team has been a dynamic force in Uganda. Just within the past five years, GFACS has compiled a database list of families who have been affected by child sacrifice in Uganda, promoted awareness and advocacy through various media outlets including the major newspapers and radio station. And last year Santos addressed the Parliament of Uganda and handed over a petition to them. I recently found out that the petition will be discussed amongst the parliament members this upcoming week. This is remarkable news for everyone at GFACS and its supporters.

Database file of GFACS

I urge each and every one of you reading this blog to take 5 seconds of your time to follow GFACS on Facebook,  so that  they can reaffirm their stand to put an end to child sacrifice. Here’s the link:  http://www.facebook.com/thegideonfoundation

 

Posted By Oluwatooni Akanni

Posted Jul 5th, 2012

6 Comments

  • Andrew

    July 6, 2012

     

    Fantastic news about the petition! It sounds like Gideon Foundation is getting some traction in the country, though huge challenges remain. The videos are powerful, and the picture of the database should be shown far and wide. The fact that the database fills up 13 binders is crazy, especially since it’s almost guaranteed to not contain every case of child sacrifice. If more people knew about this, maybe it could become a front-page international issue. I wish the best to Santos and his mission to make sure what happened to Gideon does not happen to any other children.

  • Oluwatooni Akanni

    July 6, 2012

     

    Thanks Andrew! The petition was put together by Santos and his lawyer about a year ago. Knowing that the Parliament has agreed to look at it has been a big accomplishment for GFACS thus far. I really hope that something meaningful comes out of the discussion. Just a disclaimer- the binders also includes other files of GFACS and its not solely all cases of child sacrifice.

  • iain

    July 7, 2012

     

    This is really good work, Tooni. Gideon is clearly making a real difference and building a remarkable network and you’re helping with posts like this. Santos comes across as very dignified and without any bitterness – which is rather remarkable. Can you share the petition with us, and perhaps take note of MPs who seem sympathetic and interested? I must say that Santos, Leah, Stella and Esther are remarkable.

  • Lili

    July 7, 2012

     

    Tooni!!! You are doing a wonderful job girl. SO proud of you. Change the world but please come home soon. Love you and I miss you dearly.

  • Karin Orr

    July 8, 2012

     

    What incredibly strong parents the Labejas are! I am so impressed by their ability to channel this grief into a fight for a solution. AP has so much faith in Gideon Foundation’s ability to eradicate this terrible practice. In your time there have you met, or heard of, any witch doctors that speak openly against this practice? Has this practice reduced the use of witch doctor’s services within the community? Would you argue that this ritual is cultural?

  • Oluwatooni Akanni

    July 9, 2012

     

    Karin- It’s very unlike for a witch doctor to speak openly about ritual murder/child sacrifice. If they do, they would most likely deny the fact that they and other witch doctors participate in it. Most of them would argue that they sacrifice animals and not human beings. The ritual practices of witch doctors are definitely engrained within the traditional customs of Uganda. However, based on my research and interviews I don’t necessarily thing child sacrifice is part of the Ugandan culture. I believe the reason why most people particularly the Ugandan government assume it’s a cultural thing is because they want to avoid taking action on this issue. Most politicians in the country have tried their best to minimize the degree of this problem because they are sacred of losing votes in a country where witchdoctors yield such powerful influence especially in the election results.

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