Last week, police in Malawi received orders to shoot on sight anyone they see assaulting an albino. There and in other African countries, albinos’ lives are at risk. To help them, the UN made a move by declaring June 13 international albinism day.
As Gregoire Molle reports, there are still a lot of misconceptions to fight, and that’s a worldwide struggle.
Albinism is a genetic disorder that strikes one person in 20,000.
Rick Guidotti was photographing people with physical and genetics disorder when he went to Mali and took a picture of a young albino girl name Siri.
In the picture you can see her skin is damaged. That’s because her father was afraid that Siri would bring curse on the household, so he banished her to the outdoors, under the African sun.
GUIDOTTI: And they put Siri out of the house and the mother out of the household, and the mother not knowing what to do didn’t know anything about albinism, puts Siri in direct sunlight, thinking that would make her dark like her brothers and sisters.
Life is tough for Albinos even when their relatives don’t think they’re a curse. Angi Keung has learnt that, as the mother of two sons who are albinos. Like many people who have the disorder, her older son has poor eyesight.
KEUNG: So there will be a step up or a step down and he just freezes. He’s afraid because he can’t tell if it’s up or down, or if it’s a hole. He just stops and he just won’t move.
And when he started school, Keung learnt children can be cruel to albinos.
KEUNG: One kid came to him and said that he was like a rattlesnake because rattlesnakes are white, and my son is white. And rattlesnakes are evil, so my son must be evil.
Keung is part of a movement that tries to make life better for albinos, in the U.S., and around the world. So is Aboubakar Sako, an albino from Senegal. He says Albinos in Africa are constantly reminded of the prejudice against them.
SAKO: You’re outside, you go to school, you go market or you are working on the street, you feel that every single day people are running away, when they saw you they’re running away.
But the worst-case scenario is not when people are running away from Albinos, Sako says, but when they are running at them. There is a superstition in some African countries, which says that parts of albinos’ bodies bring good luck. And when people go to traditional healers, Sako says they can get advice like this:
SAKO: If you want to succeed, you have to get that from Albinos. Sometimes they can take say the hair; sometimes they can say the legs, the bodies.
Other superstitions say that Albinos are ghosts, or that having sex with them cures AIDS. These beliefs have led to abuses and murders. According to the U.N, at least one albino is killed every month in Africa, in average. And many attacks may never be documented.
Malawi is the latest nation in Africa whose government is trying to tackle the issue. Adam Ashforth teaches Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan. He says: Malawi’s order for police to shoot on sight probably won’t prevent Albinos from being assaulted.
ASHFORTH: The likelihood of police behind around when anybody is attacking albinos is pretty low; I’m not even sure that Malawi police are armed, most of them.
Even when albinos don’t fear for their life, they have other needs that are not being met. Ashforth says that something as simple as getting access to sunscreen would make a big difference.
ASHFORTH: The rate of skin cancer is extremely high. In rural Malawi or Tanzania you can’t get sunscreen or good sunglasses. So that’s probably the number one problem.
Until something changes, some Albinos in Africa will have to live to like two boys, in one of the pictures taken by photographer Rick Guidotti.
GUIDOTTI: The image which is here is about two wonderful brothers, they’re about twelve years old.
One of them is albino. For his own protection, he left his family, and went to a highly protected school. His brother, who is not albino, wanted to be with him. So he went too.
GUIDOTTI: So he and his brother are living in heavily guarded school in the Shinyanga region, that has a fence all around it, that had a great big hole, so it wasn’t the safest area, but it was patrolled.
Every year that passes, activist Angi Keung hopes that schools like that get closer to the day when they can take down the barbwire.
Gregoire Molle, Columbia Radio News.