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I want you to imagine that you possess something incredibly valuable. It’s very rare, so many people want what you have. They want it so badly that they are willing to maim or even kill you in order to get it. You’d probably want to lock it up and protect it. Put is somewhere safe or hidden.

sunglassesNow imagine that what you possess that is so valuable is in fact your body. You very flesh is considered magical and healing. What would you do now?  In order to secure your most treasured asset you would need to leave behind your home, your friends and family, and move to a safe village. You’d be forced to live in the confines of a secured area, like a prison to keep danger out, but it’d probably feel a lot more like you were being kept in.  And consider that from the moment of your birth, before you even could understand what skin was, until the moment of your death this would be an issue for you.  After all, a full “set” of an albino including all four limbs, ears, tongue, nose and genitals can fetch a price of $75,000.

There is some irony in the thought that a person born with Albinism has a body that holds healing properties. After all, the lack of pigment makes them extremely sensitive to the sun. They must wear sunglasses and sunscreen or cover their skin in a way that those with normal skin pigment never do. They have higher rates of skin cancer and vision problems. Add these to the risk of being maimed or killed for your body parts (National Geographic) or raped in the belief that you can cure someone of HIV. This birth abnormality has caused you anything but healing (IPS). Rates in several East African nations are far above the international averages, so this minority group is proportionately higher than you find in the United States. National Geographic cites 1,400 Tanzanians versus 1 in 20,000 international average.

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There are people doing something about this injustice. Legal systems are doing what they can to make the trade in albino parts illegal and see justice brought to victims. Unfortunately, justice may come too late. There is a need for helping public opinion shift to a greater understanding of the cause of albinism so myths can be countered. Organizations who are doing the work or protection, education, and employment assistance need support.

Asante Mariamu runs the Kabanga Protectorate Center and school, a safe haven for albinos in Western Tanzania. If you want to get involved, consider becoming a volunteer and host a sunscreen drive at your local church or raise funds to support their work.  You can also support the Tanzania Albinism Society and their work to help empower and protect albinos.

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Written by Barbara Seidle

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