Albinism: fighting for survival

SHARE   |   Monday, 21 November 2016   |   By Ontametse Sugar
Workshop attendants Workshop attendants

Albinism Society of Botswana (ASB) has launched a massive campaign to create awareness, fight for their rights and address social challenges faced by people with albinism in the country and the world over by getting government and other stakeholders involved. Albinos have been widely persecuted in countries like Tanzania and Malawi where it is believed that their body parts are magical and bring prosperity to those harvesting them. In some countries, especially in Africa, people with albinism are killed and rejected by fellow citizens, who do not view albinos as equal to them. Although albinos are not subjected to the same cruel treatment in Botswana, the ASB-formed in 2005- says they go through similar challenges as in other parts of the world. The society therefore advocates for the recognition and respect of rights and socio economic inclusion of people with albinism. Last week ASB held a workshop with a theme of ‘Enhancing Social Inclusion of People with Albinism’, which explored issues like state of albinism in Botswana, preventing and mitigating the impact of skin cancer in persons with albinism, culture and myths surrounding albinism, human rights, their portrayal in the media and many other issues.

Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness Phillip Makgalemele said through the workshop persons with albinism were able to reclaim their rightful place as productive members of the society, and hopefully the stigma associated with albinism will dissipate. He said he hopes that people living with albinism can be empowered. He said in response to challenges faced by people living with disabilities government is currently reviewing the 1996 National Policy on Care for People with Disabilities. “The disability policy has nine principles which cut across human rights protection, inclusion, participation, empowerment, inclusive education, integration, continuous societal involvement in care for PWDs, needs specific equality and effective coordination of care for PWDs,” he said. A coordinating office has been set up within the Office of the President to implement policies, strategies and programs through mainstreaming them into development agenda to empower people with disabilities, he said. Kgosi Donald Rammala of Gaborone West encouraged those in attendance to come up with  interventions for people with albinism to be taken on board. He said that everyone has the responsibility to join efforts to overcome all barriers and challenges which hinders albinos from accessing and enjoying available opportunities in the country just like the mainstream society. “It is our responsibility as individuals and collectively as a nation we play a pivotal role. It begins with me. It begins with you. So let’s join hands as we embark on this noble journey of empowerment that those living with albinism can rise up and be counted,” he said, adding that their condition should not be used as an excuse of not giving them a platform to showcase their ability and compete equally without fear or intimidation from the rest of the society.

Ambassador of Germany Rolf Ulrich congratulated the Albinism society for embarking on  an outreach to their members and to the general public. He said there is no doubt that Albinism or rather how to deal with albinism is an issue in a number of Africa countries, big in some and small in others. He said against this background there is always a good reason to inform, present facts, to dialogue among each other and with other parts of the society to deliberate on practical measures to improve the situation and to normalise relations between people with albinism and the society at large. “I am not sure whether people with albinism are to be counted among people with disabilities, is there anything in the society that people with albinism cannot do due to their condition? I don’t know,” he said. He rather turned to the UN Convention of the Rights of Person with Disabilities even though Botswana is not a state party to that convention. The convention says that people with disabilities include those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Ulrich said in that regard it shows that there is an element of ‘various barriers’ coming in which will include other people’s perception of albinism, leading as a consequence to disability. He said he believes people with albinism should enjoy all rights and all the possibilities in practice to lead a meaningful like anybody else, be it on a professional level or in private and family life. “The German Embassy is proud to be able to support this endeavour, this conference was pivotal for a successful way forward to leave a lasting effect in people’s minds, inside and outside the community of people with Albinism,” he said.

Chairman of Albinism Society of Botswana Cllr Sergeant Kgosietsile said that their aim in creating the conference was to create the much needed awareness that the various stakeholders in development and government at all levels need on the challenges faced by people with albinism. He said that it their aim to make sure that there is eradication of all forms of discrimination, dehumanisation, and stigmatisation associated with the condition as well as provide tools that will improve the wellbeing of people with albinism. “The majority of people with albinism are desperately poor and isolated from mainstream community activities, they even lack the most basic needs,” he said. Kgosietsile reiterated that this stigma, poverty and discrimination tend to cause persons with albinism to be more withdrawn from social situations to avoid being noticed.  He said they tend to become emotionally unstable, develop less assertive personalities and even begin to consider the society as being generally unkind and rejecting. “These traumatic experiences haunt many people with albinism throughout the rest of their lives,” he said. He said that in Botswana they have suffered twice because they have a disability that is not recognised as a disability with the general data collection instruments such as census or household surveys continuing to underestimate the number of people with albinism. He said that they are three to four times likely to be victims of violence because of the persistence of myths that body parts of persons with albinism bring fortune and good health. He said most of the victims are often women and girls, with mothers of children with albinism often being persecuted. “Women and girls with albinism experience sexual violence as a result of persistent myths and discrimination,” he said. Joy Dikgathatso Seeletso from Botho University who said she has been working with students with disabilities from as early as primary school encouraged the Albinos to first and foremost accept themselves and try to be the best that they can be. She implored upon parents to stop taking the albinos out of school because if they cannot see there are many schools that they can go to like Pudulogong Centre and others with aided facilities. “Bring your children to school and let them go to university, stop hiding them.