Their hair and eyebrows are pale yellow or platinum blond. Their skin is whiter than mine, although they are African and their parents and other relatives have black hair and skin. They are albinos, and several hundred of them live in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in southern Uganda.
We visited with many of them during my recent trip to Uganda, and most of what I learned about them is heartbreaking. As you might guess, they have problems protecting their skin from the hot African sun. They are also more susceptible to other skin problems, and many of the albino children and adults we met had sores on their arms, legs, faces and heads. Many have trouble with vision, and can’t see very well or very far. And that’s only the beginning of their troubles.
Women who give birth to albinos are shunned, and often deserted by their husbands and other family members. They are called witches, and their children are called pigs or devils. As children, they are made fun of in school, and as adults, they struggle to find work, since few people will associate with them or purchase food or goods from them.
All of this would be devastating anywhere in the world, but it’s even more so in the refugee camp, where it’s difficult – for everyone, but especially for the albino population – to obtain clean water or supplies like skin lotion, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
While in Uganda, I had the opportunity to help distribute donated clothing and other items to children and adults in the Refugee Center and elsewhere. That’s always a favorite part of the trip, and it was especially so when we were handing out wide-brimmed hats and special sunglasses to members of the albino community. Such simple items – ones that most of us would take for granted – make such a huge difference in their lives. We had enough hats and sunglasses to give to others as well, but the albino children were most in need, and first in line.
The evening before the distribution, we visited with a family Tabitha had met on her last trip to Uganda. Several of the family’s children are albino, and all of them are delightful. One of the sons enjoys playing guitar and has a strong, clear voice. A daughter is sweet and sassy, and whenever she sees someone who might want to take her picture, she immediately strikes a model’s pose, leaning in toward the camera, with hands on hips.
Though many albino children are understandably shy, this little girl never got the memo. I hope she never does – although, sadly, as she grows older the odds are strong that she’ll understand the need to protect herself emotionally from the words and actions of others. Still, I am praying that somehow life will be kinder to her in the future – as well as to her brothers and the rest of the albino population – than it’s been in the past.
I hope all of you will join me in doing the same.
June 1, 2018
©Betty Liedtke, 2018
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