Rachel Monger, Partnership Manager for Tanzania, shares first-person accounts from women with albinism and why having albinism can lead to marginalisation and persecution in Tanzania.
Trigger warning: the write-up below contains events that some may find upsetting
It was on August 14, 2014, when Munghu, a 35 year old woman with albinism, was attacked in Tanzania. Her left arm was hacked off below the elbow, her right arm mutilated, and she was left to bleed to death. Her husband (without albinism) was killed as he tried to defend his wife and their two children. Just nine days earlier Pendo, a 15-year-old girl had been attacked. Her attackers ran off into the night with her right hand, hacked off below the elbow with a machete.
These were terrifying times for people with albinism. “White and Black: Crimes of Colour,” a documentary produced in collaboration with Under the Same Sun, revealed to the rest of the world what was happening. It followed the undercover work of Vicky Ntetema, (a Tanzanian journalist and later recipient of the International Women of Courage Award) examining the superstitions and fears surrounding albinism in Tanzania and the brutal consequences of these prejudices and the witchdoctors who prey on people with albinism for profit.
Albinism is a genetic skin disorder that results in the lack of production of melanin in the skin, hair and eyes, resulting in light or no colour. People with albinism are visually impaired and they are dangerously susceptible to skin cancer, often leading to early death. But more horrific is the stigma attached to this condition in Tanzania. People have called them “ghosts” considering them inhuman. Their body parts, which can be sold for a great deal of money, have been sought after for witchcraft potions to bring fortune and good luck. And tragically it is the children who are the most vulnerable to kidnapping, mutilation and murder.
A woman who gives birth to a child with albinism will often be considered a curse on the family or village and cut off, mistreated or sent away homeless, ostracised from community with her child at constant risk of being attacked or killed.
In Mwanza, Tanzania, a small group of women were brought together by Ester Rwela, an incredible ambassador for people with albinism, working at the time with Under the Same Sun.
These women were just some of the many mamas who were walking the difficult and painful journey of albinism in Tanzania. Mamas whose young children had been brutally murdered or attacked. Mamas who were cursed and shunned by their family or village for giving birth to a child with albinism. Mamas whose own husbands had played a role in horrific attacks. Mamas who had given birth only to have their husband leave them alone and unsupported, to find a wife who “not cursed” to bear his children. Mamas who had every shred of security, confidence and love stripped from them.
Ester introduced me to these precious women who had been told in every possible way, “you can’t…” This was the beginning of my journey with Upendo wa Mama, which means “Mother’s Love”, Rachel shares.
The Upendo wa Mama group came together to support one another in the pain of all they were going through. Two had albinism and the others had children with albinism. They had all lost so much. They also needed income to survive, and we worked together to find ways to generate income. Over the past 8 years I have been immensely privileged to journey with these women. Together we have laughed and cried; we have struggled, and we have celebrated and each one of us has learned and grown in different ways. Here is a little of the story that takes us to Mama Hive and Bees Abroad today…
Join us in the next blog to find out how Bees Abroad and the women of Under The Same Sun are collaborating.