“I have a dream that one day people with albinism will take their rightful place throughout every level of society and that the days of discrimination against persons with albinism will be a faint memory.”
Now, UTSS modestly describes itself as an NGO working to promote the rights and wellbeing of marginalised persons with albinism – commonly PWA, for short – worldwide.
It is also known as a global faith-based agency committed to ending discrimination and violence against PWA and facilitating their social inclusion and participation.
Tanzania is no stranger to albinism in general and the plight of PWA in particular and this has been known for so long, and is so well documented complete with graphic details, that it hardly makes news any more.
What one might find surprising and therefore worth looking into with an especially inquisitive eye could be the fact that, despite the experience Tanzanians have on albinism, no one can say for sure that the country is a safe haven for PWA.
Indeed, even the likes of UTSS will talk of some indications that PWA in the country are now a much less hunted ‘community’ than was the case several years ago.
However, it is yet to be confirmed through authoritative surveys whether this is a true and comprehensive enough representation of the sustainability of the situation on the ground.
Put rather differently, no one can as yet say for sure whether the discrimination or stigmatisation persons with albinism have known for decades on end has eased significantly enough for us as a nation to brag about having made impressive headway in disabusing ourselves of long-held myths or misconceptions about albinism and gone on to unconditionally appreciate the undeniable fact that PWA have no inherently or uniquely crippling “incompleteness” as human beings.
Numerous authoritative studies have proved this beyond any shadow of doubt, many coming up with dumbfounding success stories revolving around PWA – and this in all kinds of disciplines, professions and sectors.
Peter Ash’s own story effectively debunks longstanding myths relating to albinism: he was the youngest of a family of three boys, but he and one other brother were the only members of the family that have albinism. Additionally, he once reported that he is married and has a son but neither his wife nor their son has the genetic condition.
Surprise, surprise, one might say. Not quite, science has since conclusively shown. Experts say it would be totally wrong to blame a child’s albinism only on the perceived fault of the mother. They are emphatic that, regardless of race, a couple will beget a child with albinism only if both the mother and the father carry the albinism gene.
Further moving to demystify albinism, experts also dismiss the belief that constantly exposing children with albinism to the sun stands to help the children develop resistance to sunburn and therefore protect them from skin cancer and darken their skins as a “weapon” against discrimination.
To the contrary, experts prescribe the use of protective items such as sunglasses, hats and long-sleeved shirts or blouses as well as the application of sun screen to dramatically reduce the chances of skin cancer and premature death induced or precipitated by unprotected exposure to the sun.
Experts further warn that all PWA are “legally blind” in the sense that they have reduced vision and light-sensitive eyes and need to wear sunglasses or special spectacles – or even use magnifiers – particularly when outdoors.
There is also the need for PWA to sit strategically enough during class time to follow whatever is written on the board at the front – a justifiable demand which some teachers may however choose to ignore.
Some myths about albinism are especially laughable, which is all the more reason for experts and agents like the media and human rights crusaders to debunk them. One is that albinism is communicable and therefore physical contact with any PWA “surely” leads to “contamination with the albinism virus” – when there is actually no such “virus”!
The situation not being as promising for PWA as one would wish or expect, what could one propose as the best way forward? Not easy floating a panacea, one must admit.
Fortunately, PWA themselves are not demanding much from society apart from an informed appreciation of their unique physical condition and unconditional access to the enjoyment of as many rights as are enjoyed by all other people.
Not a big deal, for sure. So, why are some people dragging their feet so cynically when it comes to heeding appeals to this effect – or merely adding some voice to them – including desisting from addressing PWA using “labels” they find repugnant?
Opportunities on silver platter for millions of youth in Africa to make the most out of
Pan-African telecommunications, media and technology group Econet and global crop nutrition giant Yara International ASA last week announced the launch of what is known as Generation Africa.
The two firms have declared that they see the partnership initiative bringing the dynamism of youth entrepreneurship to Africa’s agri-food sector.
They say the drive is designed to inspire young African entrepreneurs to join the all-important sector and benefit from the viable business opportunities it is set to make available.
This should be excellent news if indeed the initiative will reach thousands of young people through a competition that will award outstanding business ventures in the agri-food sector.
It is reported that Africa’s agri-food sector will present a US$ 1-trillion business opportunity by 2030, largely by linking up with the ongoing technology revolution.
So, with innovations benefiting Africa’s agri-food chain chiefly in the way it grows, harvests, processes, stores, transports, packages, sells and consumes food, the continent will doubtless witness a revolution in the true sense of the word if it seizes the opportunities promised.
The Yara top leadership has declared that the just-launched drive “will help youth entrepreneurs launch, grow and mature agri-food businesses that will drive job creation, inclusive growth and better food supply”.
It is meanwhile also reported that Africa has some 600 million hectares of arable land but still imports an annual US$35 billion worth of food, with the estimate for 2015 being US$100 billion while over 60 per cent of young people across Africa lie unemployed.
The bottom line here hinges on the need to have a bigger presence of innovative entrepreneurship to help tame rural-urban migration by making agriculture more attractive and paying, by creating more and more rewarding jobs in the private and informal sectors and by raising nutrition levels both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Econet and Yara may not stand as continental trailblazers as such, but they are fronting a noble mission meriting emulation and support.