This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the children of the Albino Child Support Programme of Eldoret with Days for Girls. We were there primarily to distribute reusable menstrual kits for the girls. After all, these girls face the same changes as all girls when they are becoming women but are sadly sometimes forgotten about.
I went to the school not knowing much about Albinos at all, there are not many where I am from and I don’t think I have ever met one. I was shocked when Khayanga- the Days for Girls Kenya Director, mentioned a girl from the school that had been murdered. Unbeknown to me, this is common in Africa as their blood is rumoured to have healing powers. Wow! This shocked me to my core. For a place that seems to have come so far and developed in a short amount of time this was unbelievable news to me, how could this be so? Obviously a crazy theory. There have always been different beliefs and cultures in Africa and some still live on, until they are educated otherwise they will continue to believe what they have grown up being taught.
People with albinism are born with no or little pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, which makes them extremely susceptible to skin cancer. Thankfully this centre had provided all of the children with hats. Many also have poor eyesight, which means that many never learn to read. This was noticeable, the way they squinted, closed one eye or their eyes twitched as they tried to focus on Khayanga presenting to them about women’s health.
There are more people with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, and many face discrimination and violence. In some countries, including Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi, a frightening number of albino people are murdered for their body parts, which are rumoured to hold magical healing properties. The UN has warned that people with albinism may become“extinct” because of the extremely high rate of these ritual killings.
Kenya is seen as a regional example, under the leadership of the Albinism Society of Kenya (ASK), which has pushed to institute several national programs. People with albinism in Kenya are eligible for free sunscreen, paid for by the government, and free skin cancer screenings. There are also some high-profile people with albinism, including ASK chairman Isaac Mwaura, a Kenyan MP, who came up with the idea for a beauty pageant. They are beginning to fight the stigma against Albinism.
I couldn’t say much as I was shocked about the new information I had found out but was so happy to have come here and provide a solution to the girls menstruation needs, equal to what we have provided others.
The children go to school next door to where they stay and are securely protected 24hours by their carers and teachers, sleeping in their boarding houses with them.
They recently held a meeting at the school to educate the families of these children about how to look after them and keep them safe while they are home for the school holidays.
The boarding house and facilities are very homely and safe for the children and they are planning on growing the school to include more ‘normal’ black children from the community as well as children with other disabilities in order to close the gap of segregation.
I was inspired as always when Khyanga spoke, she has a natural way of relating to people and is a very good speaker. She included the boys in the talk about women’s health and spoke about changes for boys and girls before we handed the girls their new kits. They were very grateful and so well-mannered. I thank them for the lesson I have learnt and hope to include this in my own school teachings while I am in Kenya.
Just another reason to remember how lucky I am!
“Persecution of people with albinism (sometimes abbreviated PWA) is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. Such superstition is present especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, it has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user (muti or medicine murder)
As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck. The persecutions of people with albinism take place mostly in Sub-Saharan African communities, especially among East Africans.
Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which is very rare and, worldwide, affects approximately one in twenty thousand people. Although rare in the western world, albinism is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa, likely as a result of consanguinity. Both parents, who may or may not be albinos themselves, must carry the gene if it is to be passed on to the child. Albinism occurs in both males and females and is not specific to any race or ethnic group. Statistics prove that fifty percent of albinistic people in Tanzania have a known albinistic relative, although very few understand or are educated about the medical and genetic causes of this condition. Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck, and that their “disease” could be contagious, which is often the view of even members of the medical and professional community. These misconceptions, coupled with the lack of education, are some of the key reasons that albinism is so heavily persecuted. This lack of knowledge about people with albinism means that folktales and superstition in the name of witchcraft take the place of medical and scientific facts in the minds of many native Africans, with and without albinism, which in turn has major effects on the social integration of albinistic people into African society. Ninety-eight percent of albinos die by the age of forty for reasons which could easily be prevented”