In an overcrowded school in northern Tanzania, hundreds of albino children have found a safe haven from a culture that perceives them as demons or ghosts.
By Sarah Rasher|Friendly Atheist
Albinism is a genetic condition that affects only one in 20,000 people worldwide, but it is far more common in Tanzania, where the rate rises to about 1 in 1,400. People with albinism do not produce pigment in their skin, hair, or eyes, which gives them a distinctive physical appearance, makes them sensitive to the sun, and in some cases results in visual impairment. Martin Haule, the head of educational projects at Under the Same Sun, a Canadian charity that aids albinos, explains that their marginalization runs deep in Tanzanian culture:
Even people who have albinism do not understand that it’s just about the skin. They too believe they are somehow not fully human.
According to a feature in The Telegraph, parents of albinos often abandon their children, fearing for their kids’ lives as well as their own. Practitioners of traditional medicine — which other Tanzanians refer to derisively as “witch doctors” — believe that albinos’ bodies have magical powers. A full set of albino body parts can fetch $75,000 on the black market.
Murders and maimings of albinos are so frequent in Tanzania that administrators at facilities like Buhangija, the school spotlighted in the Telegraph article, worry about the immense street value of the children who live there. Buhangija, which was originally designed as a school for blind and deaf children, now houses almost 300 albino children and young adults.