Perspective: Living with albinism, discrimination and superstition

By Michael Hosea

I was born in Mwanza, the second largest city in the United Republic of Tanzania. I am the eldest son and live with my siblings and parents in Dodoma, the capital. There are six children in our family; one of my sisters and one of my brothers are also albinos. 

The impairments caused by my condition make life very difficult. I always have trouble with the sun and have to cover up with heavy, long-sleeved clothing and wear sunglasses to protect my eyes. I also have troubles at school. Sometimes I can’t see the blackboard, and I always have to sit in the shade. This country does not have sufficient vision-enhancing technology, such as glasses, magnifiers and special computer equipment, and without it children with albinism have a hard time graduating from school and finding employment. My family is poor, so getting money for school fees is also difficult.

Life is complicated even more by the way people treat us. There is a lot of discrimination against people with albinism, and I sometimes lack the company of friends. Some people also believe horrible myths about us: that we are not human and never die, that albinism is a curse from the gods and that anyone who touches us will be cursed.

Worst of all, practitioners of witchcraft hunt and kill us to use our hair, body parts and organs in charms and potions. For centuries some people have believed that if they go to a witch doctor with albino body parts, they will become rich and prosperous. Even though it is illegal to kill people with albinism, it still happens – it’s greed that makes people do it. But it’s all based on lies: There are people who have done these terrible things, yet their lives have remained the same.

A few months ago, thanks to a friend of my father, my siblings and I escaped being the victims of murder for witchcraft. My father’s friend came to warn him that his three albino children were in danger of being hunted, and he begged my father to leave Mwanza. This wasn’t easy because my parents’ financial situation was not good, but we packed up everything and left at 3 a.m. that night.

We travelled over 500 kilometres to Dodoma and after two days received news from home that people had broken into our house in Mwanza looking to kill us.

When these people found that we had escaped, they went to our next-door neighbour’s house. He was our local albino representative and had done so much to help us and advocate for albino rights in our community. They cut off his genitals and arms, and left him there to die. We later received a phone call from another neighbor telling us what they did to him. This news hurt me so much that I cried a lot, but what could I do? This is the way things are.

I don’t understand why people do such things to fellow human beings. But I think education is the key to stopping the murder, abuse and discrimination. It is important that others – even members of my extended family – learn that we are people just like them. We are all the same.

To escape life’s difficulties, I love to write songs and sing. I have just written a song about albinos and our struggle. My dream is to one day be able to record my music in a studio and spread my message. I pray that people around the world can one day understand that albinos are no different from them. We are all human beings and deserve to be treated with love and respect.

Note:

Albinism is a rare, genetically inherited condition found in all ethnicities. People with albinism have little or no pigmentation in their eyes, hair and skin owing to a lack of melanin. They are sensitive to bright light and have a higher than average risk of skin cancer from sun exposure. Most people with albinism are also visually impaired. Under the Same Sun, a Canadian non-governmental organization, estimates that albinism affects 1 in 2,000 Tanzanians. Although the medical condition itself does not affect life expectancy, in the United Republic of Tanzania the average lifespan of a person with albinism is around 30 years.

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