Tanzanian kids with albinism receive prosthetic limbs and new lease

01Jan 2018
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Tanzanian kids with albinism receive prosthetic limbs and new lease

BARAKA and Mwigulu are bunkmates living in hiding in Tanzania, where they are hunted simply because of how they look.

They weren’t born brothers, but their shared experiences as children with albinism in rural Africa have made them just that.

Albinism is a disorder marked by an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. Tanzania has one of the highest albinism rates in the world, and people with albinism are targeted in heinous attacks motivated by superstition. They are thought to be ghosts or haunted beings.

Mwigulu, now 14, was just 10 years old and living in a rural village when his arm was brutally cut off.

“One day we were coming from school,” he said through a translator. “We saw two people who were walking ahead of us.  One covered my face, and the other one starting cutting me. He cut the first time and missed, he cut the second time and this time succeeded. Then he took my arm and ran away with it.”

Vicky Ntetema, executive director of the Canadian NGO Under the Same Sun which is dedicated to the plight of these persecuted people, said attacks against albinos are “fuelled by ignorance.”

“Persons with albinism are often seen as not human,” she told Nightline. “If there's any disaster - drought, floods, hurricanes - they are blamed for that.”

The body parts of people with albinism are believed to harness magical powers and Ntetema said local witchdoctors will sell them for thousands of dollars.

“The witchdoctors are like gods,” Ntetema said. “They tell their clients that bones and other organs of persons with albinism - if mixed with a magic potion - will make them successful, make them win elections, make their businesses boom, help even in their love affairs.”

Baraka, now aged 7, was just 4 years old when Ntetema said attackers broke into his home in the middle of the night and cut off his hand. His mother tried to defend her son and was also injured.

“Baraka himself was screaming,” Ntetema said. “The mother was left alone to defend Baraka. She sustained some serious head injuries.”

After two and a half years in police custody, three men were sentenced to a combined 62 years in prison for their participation in Baraka's attack. As for Mwigulu, more than four years after he was attacked, six men were sentenced to 20 years apiece for their role in that crime.