Thursday, 4 May 2017

TANZANIA: People With Albinisim Visit USA For Care

Weary from travel, the four stepped off a jet at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), was waiting to care for them.

The New York-based GMRF hosts children from around the world who have been injured in conflict or disaster.

Many need prosthetics like the children from Tanzania, where people with albinism live in danger.

Their body parts are highly valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe they are ghosts who bring bad luck.

The children who arrived on Saturday were making a return trip, having outgrown prosthetics they got in the United States with the help of GMRF two years ago.

The oldest boy, 15-year-old Emmanuel Rutema, speaks with difficulty. His attackers chopped off one arm and the fingers of the other and tried to pull out his tongue and teeth.

“I’ve come back to get a new arm,” he said in Swahili through an interpreter, tugging at his empty shirtsleeve.

Baraka Lusambo, 8, grinned in obvious delight as he took in the bustling airport and swung from the arm of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.

Mwigulu Magesa, 14, and Pendo Noni, 17, hung back, shyly seeking reassurance from Ester Rwela, a social worker who traveled with them from Tanzania.

The children attend boarding school and live in so-called safe houses in Tanzania. They rarely go out in public because it frightens them, said Rwela, a social worker with Under the Same Sun, a charity that advocates for people with albinism.

Pendo Noni, a Tanzanian with Albinism visiting the U.S. for medical care.

GMRF in the last 20 years has hosted more than 200 children getting medical treatment, but the ones from Tanzania stand out, said Montanti.

“We’ve helped children over the last almost twenty years, children that have stepped on landmines, kicked a can and it exploded,” said Montanti. “But this is so deliberate,” she added.

When they first came they were extremely timid, no eye contact, she said. “It was a matter of trust.”

We broke through that. They know that we’re their friends.

The children are expected to stay about two months, getting medical treatment courtesy of the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia.

Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400.

United Nations officials estimate at least 75 albinos were killed in the east African nation between 2000 and 2015.

They say the number of reported attacks represent just a fraction of the total as most are secretive rituals in rural areas.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the body parts are traded in a lucrative market for use in witchcraft. Reported prices range from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a corpse.

Kidnapping of PWD's

Femia survived an attempted kidnapping in Malawi by people wanting to kill her for her body parts.

In Malawi, like other countries in the region, people with albinism are hunted down because of the belief that potions made from their body parts can bring good luck and wealth.

She narrates how a gang tried to lure her away from her home two years ago.

It was a Friday. Five men and one woman came here at about 7 o'clock in the evening.They arrived when I was in the kitchen preparing our supper and my husband was outside.

They told him that they were looking for me. That they were policemen, and had come to protect me because they had got a tip that some people were looking for me to kill me.

I was scared because these were total strangers. I had never seen them before.There was such commotion here that some of our neighbours gathered.

And although they said they were policemen, they were not wearing uniform.I wasn't convinced at first, but then they mentioned the name of the police chief from this area. We even asked them to describe the police chief, and they did.

In fact, they showed us guns and even identity cards. But of course we could not know whether they were genuine or not.

That is when my husband and I, and some of the neighbours agreed to go with them to the police unit. When we got there, the police post was locked.

The five who claimed to be police officers called three other people from a nearby bar. And they now tried to force my husband and me to go to a station further from our area.

It was very strange because they sent away anyone else that was curious and wanted to stop by. So it was just me, my husband, and the neighbours who had come with us.

My husband insisted that they shouldn't take me away by myself. He kept arguing with them that we hadn't committed any crime; why were we going to be taken to a police station?

When they realised we had decided to stand our ground, they were very angry, and they just left.I have never seen them again since that day,we know the policemen that operate in our area. But those people were strangers to all of us.

My life has completely changed since then.I have got eight children, some of whom go to secondary school.

Before the incident, I could go to the place where we buy vegetables in bulk, and I would go door to door selling them.
Now I am always afraid to move deep into the township. So all I'm left with is the bench at the market, where I sell from.

As a result, I cannot make enough money for my children's school fees, uniforms and even for food, because I have to restrict myself to the market stall. Now some of our children have been sent home from school.I don't feel that the police or government are doing anything to protect people with albinism like me.

Last year, a UN expert warned that Malawi's estimated 10,000 albinos face "extinction" if they continue to be murdered for their body parts

Since November 2014, 19 PWA's have been killed and there have been more than 100 cases of attempted kidnapping and disappearances
Graves of albinos are also targeted by criminals who remove bones in order to sell them.

Amnesty International says police lack investigative skills and the majority of cases remain unresolved.
Activists say poverty contributes to the suspicion surrounding albinos and the belief their body parts can be sold for large sums of money.

I live by the grace of God. I just thank God when I wake up each morning. I still don't feel safe.For instance last month, one night, some people tried to break into the house through the roof.

We woke up and raised an alarm; we came out of the house and shouted. That is when they run away.

The community is aware that people like us are at risk; especially the neighbours, and the women at the market.

When you look at my house, I don't even have good doors to protect me at night.So night time for is me is like day. I am too scared to sleep. I am always afraid that maybe these people will come back.

So I would love the government to help me with a good house. But I would also like my government to look into my welfare, because I am unable to work and earn enough income for my family because of what happened.