Albinism in Africa: A Life of Fear

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SEATTLE — Being sentenced to death for genetics is a harsh reality for many albinos in Africa. There they are hunted, killed and even dismembered so they can be sold. This crushing reality has been going on for years despite efforts to end it.

Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. Most children with albinism are born to parents who do not exhibit the traits associated with albinism.

Albinism affects as many as one in every 1,400 people in Africa, which is where an inextricable amount of violence occurs to albinos.

Superstition in countries such as Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and more states that albinism comes with luck and money. Witch doctors hunt those with albinism in Africa for their body parts which are used in potions in order to bring good luck and wealth. In order to retrieve the body parts, those with albinism in Africa are often kidnapped or murdered by hired killers and, in some cases, family members.

Livila and Teresa Mansagano are sisters who live on the outskirts of Malawi. The Mansagano sisters used to travel freely and live fearlessly until June 2015 when Teresa was followed by a man. The man called her “money” to which she responded, “I’m not money, I’m a human like you.”

These life-changing experiences happen to many albinos in Africa who are dehumanized and forced to change their way of life. Those living with albinism in Africa are very visible within their communities which in return forces them to hide in their homes so that they may avoid being attacked, abducted and even killed. Although one’s home is normally their safe zone, it is not for those living with the condition; their homes are often invaded. The bodies of those targeted are often found mutilated without their hands, feet, breasts, genitals, skin, eyes or even their hair.

The threat of everyday life is evident and remarkably significant, the United Nations Refugee Agency has relocated families of people with albinism in Malawi to Canada and other countries. An organization called Under The Same Sun has also recognized the need to intervene. It strives to help people with albinism overcome obstacles they may face through providing education and advocacy.

Under The Same Sun offers skin screening clinics, sunscreen and skin cancer treatment for those living with albinism. It also runs a summer camp for 170 children every couple of years; the summer camp is primarily for children with albinism whom have been abandoned by their families and have nowhere to go when their residential school term is up.

Many living with albinism in Africa have to experience never-ending fear and are sometimes left without the choice to attend school due to the ongoing threats they face. Under The Same Sun provides education for more than 300 students and more than 100 have graduated from their education program since 2010. Eighty percent of the graduates have found jobs in their field of study or even furthered their education.

It also provides survivors of attacks with medical attention, counseling and a safe place to go. If there has been a murder, it also helps with the funeral and console the family of the victim.

To prevent more murders and attacks, it works to raise awareness by conducting albinism awareness seminars in the communities where attacks occur. It is also active at the United Nations, the African Union and in international media to bring attention and awareness.

Living with albinism in Africa often has deadly consequences. The sentence of dismemberment and even death for being born with albinism is disheartening. Although the suffering that has occurred already can’t be changed there are many organizations and activists working to see the end of the horrors suffered. They hope the eradication of torture and murders of albinos are sooner than later.

Danyel Harrigan

Photo: Flickr

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