In Zimbabwe, people with albinism struggle against prejudice
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - Every time Yvonne Gumbo, who has albinism, and her friends come together for a photo, she insists on being in the center.
"I tell them that I'm making the picture beautiful because I'm special," she recently told The Associated Press at her home in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.
"I have two different colors while they have one. I am black. I'm white, "she said, smiling." Who can make the picture more beautiful? "
In this way, the 22-year-old defends himself against the deeply rooted myths and prejudices of people with albinism in Zimbabwe, where, among other things, they are often outlawed, laughed at and derogatory as "white people".
While much of the world is engulfed in racial outrage at the death of George Floyd in the United States, Zimbabwe's young people with albinism are fighting prejudice against the color of their skin.
In nearby Malawi and Tanzania, many people with albinism are killed because their body parts are believed to bring good luck. No such killings have been reported in Zimbabwe, where around 70,000 people with albinism live with a population of around 15 million.
But prejudices remain ingrained.
Some people stare, whistle, or abuse people with albinism when walking the streets. Some believe that sleeping with them can cure HIV. Many others treat albinism as a curse.
But for Gumbo she doesn't mind anything anymore. These days she has an aura of trust that she admits was absent for the first two decades of her life.
“I only started living my life two years ago. The stigma had mostly reached me. I didn't feel as human as the others. I'm making up for those lost years now, ”said Gumbo. She said that she only started finding friends after school when she was treated as an outcast by classmates and even teachers.
"I was very calm and anxious. Now my former classmates are shocked at how talkative and confident I have become, ”she said, attributing her newfound trust to her membership in support groups.
These programs include an annual Miss Albinism and Mr Albinism pageant, but this year has been suspended due to coronavirus restrictions.
"We need to focus on success, not pity," said Brenda Mudzimu, founder of the Miss Albinism Trust, which runs the pageant. The trust also offers career counseling workshops and support sessions for people with albinism.
“At the moment we have albinos who are doctors, nurses… success stories are at the forefront in the fight against the corona virus. We also need to talk about them to inspire others, ”said Mudzimu.
However, the economic downturn caused by restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 is causing many people with albinism to have trouble putting food on the table, much less important things like sunscreen, skin lotions, and other medications Afford.
The Zimbabwe Albino Association, a representative group, has campaigned in parliament to enact a law that requires the government to provide free skin lotions to people with albinism.
Joyce Mutenje provided her three children, all of whom suffer from albinism, with laundry and household cleaning for traders in a busy border town before the closure. But now the border trade has stopped and Mutenje has no more money to get skin cream for her children.
"That's all that's left," said Mutenje, holding two small tubes of lotion. She hopes that it will take two weeks by telling the children to only apply the lotion to their faces.
Obey Machona, a 21-year-old media science student at the University of Zimbabwe, said he was a supporter of "taking control of our lives as albinos". He said he supported himself and his unemployed mother with part-time jobs as a photographer. Now these appearances have dried up due to the blockage and items like skin lotion have become a luxury.
"What good is a skin lotion if the stomach is empty?" he asked.
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