Thursday, August 4, 2016

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ” ― Fred Rogers

     When we first got here, we learned of the problems facing children with albinism (see picture at the right).  We have done what we could, providing sunglasses for their eyes, sunblock for their skin, and hats to protect their heads.  Through another support group in nearby Lamadi, we also help to provide a safe place for the kids to go after school.  At a big meeting where the other adults were afraid to even touch the children, I just had to hold and love them.  A woman from England, Penny Peers, got to know one girl really well.  Here is Penny’s story:

     "As I walked in to a small hut, no bigger than a four man tent, with a wooden door separating what looked like a sleeping area, I found Nasra's mother crouched over a small open fire in the corner of the room, cooking.  Nasra was happily playing with her younger brother and sister. Her baby brother also has albinism, a genetic condition affecting the skin, hair and eyes.
     As I introduce myself to Nasra, I can see she is very shy, no different to any young girl meeting a stranger. After a little while though, I begin to see a confident and smart young lady shine through.   She tells me she goes to the local school and travels there on foot - but for someone like Nasra, walking by foot anywhere can be life threatening. 
     People with albinism living in Tanzania, where Nasra and her family come from, are at risk of being hunted for their body parts. It is widely believed, mainly through false teachings of witch-doctors, that the blood, hair, teeth or body part of a person with albinism has magic powers. Powers that can heal, bring you wealth and good luck.  These myths unfortunately mean that capturing a person with albinism is a highly profitable business.  This is a reality that Nasra knows only too well. At just 11 years old, she has already experienced something no young girl should ever face.
     Walking to school one day, a van pulled over behind her; a gang of men jumped out and began chasing her. She told me, "I ran fast, I ran the fastest I could in my whole life!"
Thankfully, she made it home safely, but during the chase she had dropped her magnifying glass. Nasra needs this to be able to read her text books and see the blackboard clearly. Like most people with albinism, Nasra has very poor eye sight that cannot be corrected.  Nasra writing in her textbook
Since losing her magnifying glass she has struggled in class; it may seem like there is an easy solution here, but Nasra’s mother explained to me why going to buy a new one was not an option.  Quite simply, it is not safe. If Nasra’s mother were to take her children to the market where the magnifying glasses are sold, she would be putting them at severe risk of being kidnapped for their body parts.  At the same time, she cannot go alone to town and leave her children at home for similar fears; someone could seize this opportunity to kidnap and sell them.
     I thought about the choices this mother had to make - to risk her children’s lives or to let her daughter struggle at school. These are decisions no one should have to make.  Never would I have believed this confident, positive girl like Nasra had gone through something so shocking.   By the end of our time together one thing was clear, Nasra is a typical 11 year old girl. She enjoys her time at school, learning, playing with friends and dreaming of the future and what it has in store. If only everyone could look at her the same way. "

It is still a problem, although our new president has appointed an albino to a cabinet post and the police are cracking down on those involved in the abduction and murders.  A neighbor of ours was arrested and is serving a life sentence for having the arm bone of an ablino child in his house.  When the sadness starts to overwhelm us, hugging children can make things seem much better.

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