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Albinism in Tanzania: living in fear

How albinism left 18-year-old Yona facing an uncertain future.

Living in fear because of albinism

18-year-old Yona hasn’t just faced the challenges of growing up in poverty. Discrimination and misconceptions about his albinism have led him to fight for his life. The hereditary condition which results in a lack of pigmentation in skin, hair, and eyes, affects 1 in 1,400 people in Tanzania.

Over the last 10 years, 173 attacks on people with the condition have been recorded in Tanzania, the world capital for attacks on people with albinism. Tragically this includes 76 killings, 22 instances of attempted grave-robbing of people with albinism, as well as rape and abductions. Survivors of such attacks are left deeply traumatised and sometimes severely mutilated. (1)

The killings are believed to be motivated by superstition and myth. Traditional healers and witch doctors in sub-Saharan African countries promote the belief that people with albinism possess magical properties and bring good luck and fortune. Body parts can be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market. (2)

Those living with albinism are in constant fear that they could be next.

A future free from fear

Things changed for Yona when he was registered with Compassion in 2004. The project provided an environment of love, care and protection, which allowed his confidence and trust in people to grow.

Albinism in Tanzania

For the first time, he could put on a uniform and go to school.

“Before I joined Compassion I had not enrolled in any school. My parents could not afford to send all of us to school at the same time because of school fees. If there was a need for one child to wait, I was always the victim because I had not been enrolled,” says Yona. “But after I was registered in the Compassion programme, I started nursery school. Since then, I have been supported in many ways and with many things. I get school education supplies such as exercise books and textbooks.”

The guidance, protection and spirit of resilience Yona received from the project helped him fight every obstacle.

My fellow students and people nicknamed me ‘mzungu’ meaning ‘white man.’ It was a bit hard for me to accept such kind of comments or jokes, but now I am used to them and their jokes are diminishing slowly as they see my determination and what I have been able to achieve.

Yona’s hard work has paid off and earnt him good results in his national examinations. From a young boy without hope of an education due to poverty and stigmatism, Yona is now one of the highest performing students in his school. With his results Yona is optimistic he can achieve his dream.

“From the very beginning when I started secondary school education, I fell in love with science subjects. My plans were and are still the same, to study up to university level and become a chemical engineer,” beams Yona.

“My sponsor has stood by me from the beginning. He has been sending encouraging words about the future and about my dream,” Yona says. “He has sent me greetings in his letters and letting me know that he’s praying for me. His support to me is invaluable. I still need his prayers and support to achieve my dream.”


Sources: Under the Same Sun, 2017, International Federation of Red Cross: Through Albino Eyes

WORDS : Beth Borrett, Charles Ngowi

PHOTOS : Charles Ngowi

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