By Chioma Obinna
Albinos are among the groups most discriminated against in the society. The mere sight of an albino instills fear in some people because of the myths and misconceptions about them. And whereas some people believe albinos body parts are good for rituals, others, especially in Nigeria and Africa, think albinism is spiritual. Some say albinos do not die but simply disappear while a school of thought holds the view that they are products of atrocities committed by their parents. In some other societies, albinos are seen as products of infidelity (mothers having sexual relationship with white men).
Sadly, the situation has continued to fuel stigma and discrimination against albinos.
Meanwhile, the circumstances such as these have forced persons with albinism to recoil into their shell. In some African countries like Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi, there have been reports of the killings of albinos all because of their skin colour. But science has proved these beliefs on albinos wrong. Albinism is simply a rare non- contagious, genetically inherited condition that affects people worldwide, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Scientists say it occurs due to a significant deficit in the production of pigment melanin, resulting into white skin, light hair, and vision problems. Studies have shown that there is no difference between an albino and a non-albino apart from pigmentation. In essence, an albino can attain any height and do anything done by people with melanin. But an albino must keep away from scorching sun, insect bites and take good care of his eyes.
Today, many albinos around the world are soaring high in their chosen professions. One of them, 27- year-old Mrs. Onome Okagbare Majoro, is a graduate of mass communication from University of Lagos. Although her growing up was not easy with a white skin among other pupils in a Lagos school, her mother never allowed whatever anybody said about her to hurt her.
Onome was made to deal with so much discrimination, myth, superstition and misconceptive. Seeing herself different from other members of her class almost discouraged her as a child to continue her education. “I suffered so much humiliation,” she says.
The humiliation didn’t get any better as she grew older. According to her, friends and classmates used her complexion as a tool to attack her anytime she had problem with them.
Onome, who sees her mother as the pillar of her success, said: “I owe all to my mother. She is the pillar of my success.”
According to the mother of one, her parents were very much informed about her condition which enabled them to prepare her for the future.
“They were able to nurture me on some rules and that is why my skin is like this today. I was told not to go under the sun, that I could eat anything. I should not allow insects to bite me. They kept on correcting me. When I go out and people have negative impression about albinos, I correct them. I always read about albinism because everyday something new is coming out’.
But even with all her knowledge, there are times Onome felt like throwing in the towel.
“Yes! Living as a person with albinism has not been easy. I remember growing up; there was a day I refused to go to a school party because I told my mum that everybody will keep looking at me. I went to Corona, a very good private school, but people will keep looking at me. Even in the neighbourhood, people would sing about me and I would feel so withdrawn but my mum will tell me to love myself and that I am beautiful. That is how she helped me to build confidence.”
Onome was given so many names by her classmates and neighbours. “Some will call me ‘Oyinbo Pepper’ while clapping their hands, anytime we got into a fight. I began to keep to myself. I was scared to say anything because I knew I would be called these derogatory names.”
Coping with myths and humiliation
After her days in junior school, Onome thought the days of humiliation had passed but little did she know that it has no ending. “When I discovered that the abuse will continue for a long time, I developed thick skin to whatever the society said about me, just like my mother taught me,” the co-founder of the Onome Akinolu Majaro Foundation explains.
“I battled myths like in Yoruba, they say ‘Afin o kin je iyo’, which means albino does not eat salt.
“People will accost me and ask me and I will say. If I eat all foods and I will tell them I do ‘. Some will say albinos don’t take pepper. I was like ‘no, they are just myths’. When I started my foundation I heard a lot of other ridiculous statements. We are trying to correct the myths with facts. There are myths like albinism is a curse or albinism, is from incest, the mother slept with a white man, the body part of an albino will give you good luck charm. There are so many myths out there, so we are trying so hard to correct them and let the people know that albinism is just the absence of melanin, a pigment that gives colour to the skin, the hair and eye.”
Even after tying the knot with her heartthrob, Lolu, Onome has continued to deal with the challenges that come with being an albino.
“I went to the bank and an elderly couple looked at me and said ‘orisa’ (god) and I felt so bad. I was like ‘why would you call me orisa? Why will you make it so public? Why will people look at me with pity?
“I almost withdrew into my shell. Meanwhile, after my wedding, my inbox was flooded on the social media. People were asking how I got married. What did I do? Some said I was so blessed. There were different instances where I would question God and say maybe if He had made me a black person, people will not say these awful things about me. “
But in all of these, one thing that has worked for Onome is the fact that she started at a young age to learn to love herself. “I have learnt to be comfortable on my own, especially now that I am a mother because, by the time my son starts school and other children start questioning him, I should be able to tell him,” she points out.
Onome called on the Federal Government to subsidise sun screen for albinos as many Nigerians affected cannot afford it.
“A good sun screen is between N4,000 and N5,000, depending on the store. If government can subsidise it, it will go a long way to help regular albinos who go under the sun to do basic works, a number of them are dying from skin cancer and they are contracting skin cancer because they work under the sun. Just recently, the Coordinator of Benue State Chapter of Albino Foundation, died of skin cancer. There is also the need for government to help albinos with dermatology and optical services at reasonable costs”, she says.
In Nigeria, a study on ‘Albinism in Africa as a Public Health Issue’, published in BMC Public Health, showed that the country has a prevalence of 1 in 15,000.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, the Director, UN Information Centre for Nigeria, Ronald Kayanja, said albinism is a condition that affects an estimated 1 in 17,000 people globally. In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of albinism is around 1 in 5,000 but, in Europe and America, it is closer to 1 in 20,000.
According to Kayanja, reports abound about persons with albinism being hunted and physically attacked due to the mis-belief that their body parts, when used in witchcraft rituals and potion or amulets, will induce wealth, good luck and political success.
He identified the perceptions of their appearance as ghosts and subhuman as major cause of attack on albinos.
He explained that that albinism is caused by a reduction or absence of the pigment melanin, often causing white skin, light hair, and vision problems.
He lamented the lack of information on the condition which he said facilitates the spread of myths about albinism.
Describing it as an inherited condition, he said there is a 25 percent chance that a child will be born with albinism at each pregnancy.
Condemning all forms of violence against albinos, he called on government to protect all albinos and ensure that they have access to education and other basic things in the society.