There are an estimated 14,000–17,000 people affected by albinism in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately accurate statistics are hard to come by, partly because people with albinism are excluded or hidden from society.
Albinos or people with albinism experience discrimination from birth. Many come from single-parent families as fathers often divorce or leave the mother of an albino child. Mothers of albino children often find it difficult to be fully integrated into their communities because of the negative myths and superstitions which surrounded albinos.
Sadly, albino children also suffer discrimination from their peers at school. Many albinos have a number of eye-related problems, including impaired vision (even with glasses), photosensitivity (sensitivity to light), nystagmus (an involuntary back and forth movement of the eyes) and strabismus (crossed or ‘lazy’ eyes). Unfortunately, teachers often discriminate and place albino children at the back of the class where they can’t see the board. As a result, albinos are often considered slow or to have learning difficulties when this is not the case. Brian Sithole who has albinism told Harare News, “My mother had to ask the teacher to seat me at the front of the class because I couldn’t see well. After that, my school work improved dramatically.”
Gamuchirai Uzande spoke to Harare News and said, “I have experienced some discrimination at work and not got the promotions I deserve because of my condition,” she explained. Many employers are reluctant to take on an albino person, particularly if the position involves dealing with the public.”
In 2014, Tapiwa Gwenlisa Marange, Gamuchirai Uzande and Brian Sithole, formed the Alive Albinism Initiative (AAI). The organisation aims to educate the public about albinism, help to dispel myths and prejudices about the condition; empower people living with albinism to be financially independent through start up projects; and to lobby the relevant authorities for support and for equal opportunities for people with albinism.
They also help to organise social events like the celebration for the UN International Albinism Awareness Day recently held in Harare Gardens and Fun Day outings for school children with albinism. Albinism Awareness Day falls on 13 June every year and this year the commemoration was held on the 18th – the closest Saturday. Local artists, musicians, and the general public all came out in full support and dancehall musician Jah Signal wrote a special song for the occasion.
The Fun Day outings for children are held at the Longchen Plaza Amusement Park during the school holidays. It’s an important opportunity for children and their families to interact with others just like them. This year it will take place on August 15. AAI also does school visits and educational talks to foster tolerance and acceptance.
They have a new start-up programme under development and plan to set up a multi-purpose centre which will have an agricultural element including raising chickens in order to be more self sustaining; a hospitality centre for both visitors and those from the rural areas needing treatment; an educational centre; and a business and conferencing centre.
People living with the albinism always need to protect their skin from the sun. This means wearing long-sleeved shirts and hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and prescription glasses if needed.
To find out more or to support this cause contact: Gwen on 0773 478 907, Gamu on 0775 040 988 or Brian on 0736 322 707, or visit www.alivealbinisminitiative.co.zw.
Image: Gamuchirai Uzande – one of the founders of the Alive Albinism Initiative.