By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C.
December 2, 2010
Since 2008, more than 60 albinos have been killed in Tanzania, forcing hundreds of people with albinism to go into hiding. And even Tanzania’s newly elected Member of Parliament, Salum Khalfan Barany, fears for his life. He’s one of millions of people in Africa with albinism who have come under threat from illegal body parts traders.
In Tanzania and Nigeria there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent months. In Tanzania, where superstition is deep-seated, albino body parts are thought to bring good luck. Activist Peter Ash says that even Member of Parliament Salum Khalfan Barwany is being pursued by albino hunters.
“Police have reported that there are five men pursuing the life of Mr. Barwany they have been following him around with criminal intentions. We don’t know if they want Mr. Barwany because of his body parts or if there is some other motives for their following but he is under security protection of police at this time.”
An organization founded by Canadians with albinism is trying to protect albino children. For these children in northern Tanzania, a move to private boarding schools may have saved their lives.
“We have taken children from over-crowded government school, Mitindo where there was at one point one hundred and five children with albinism living in over-crowded conditions and now we have transferred those kids to into high quality private boarding school and at Lake View and Jelly’s we saw a tremendous example that children with albinism are intelligent, they are smart, and they’re capable and we saw great teachers.”
People with albinism face social challenges commonly have vision problems and need sun protection. Mike McGowan is President of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypo pigmentation, NOAH. He says he was horrified to hear about the reports of killings of African with albinism, but he urges them to stay strong:
“There is a need I think for fellowship because we share this experience of being different and we need to learn how to deal with being different and looking different and NOAH provides that place for people that share the condition to come together and to be understood because a person that shares the condition also shares all the experience. “
Activist Jack Epelle says he is concerned about the plight of albinos in Nigeria. He says Albinos on the continent have long been ignored, mocked and hunted.
“My classmates in trying to create fun would drag me to the sun and then hold my hands and hold my face, and face me to the sun, it was very excruciating for me so, now I know why I have a lot of freckles on my face.”
42 year-old Nigerian Feme Khainde has albino children. She has kept her family intact, but says it has been a struggle.
“Some people even told me when I had the first and then the second child that I should go and hide them so that the remaining people will not be like that. Or that maybe I should give them maybe to my mom. I said, how I hide my own children because of that, let them be.”
NOAH President Mike McGowan says his group is committed to making sure that the world knows about the plight of albinos in Africa.
“we’ve mounted a letter writing campaign the United States Congress and we want the congress of the United States to condemn this and we want to bring to bear pressure the governments of Tanzania and other places in Africa where this happening to ensure that the people that who committee these horrific crimes are brought to Justice .”Globally, about one person in 20-thousand has albinism.