Six African women with albinism who have overcome stigma, abuse, rape and machete attacks are set to scale the continent’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, to dispel the negative perceptions surrounding people with the rare skin condition.
The novice climbers – aged between 26 to 35 years old and from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Senegal – said their seven-day trek up the 5,895-metre (19,340-ft) summit in Tanzania was to celebrate people with albinism.
“We are tired of being told we are incapable, cursed and cannot be part of society,” said Jane Waithera, Kenyan activist and co-founder of the “Climb for Albinism” expedition, which begins on October 1.
“So here we are, six African women with albinism who have succeeded in their lives despite the odds, who are climbing the continent’s biggest mountain to amplify the voices of people with albinism – and hopefully be an inspiration to others.”
Joining Waithera are Senegalese bass player Maah Koudia Keita, Nigerian optometrist Onyinye Edi, South African actress and singer Regina Mary Ndlovu, Tanzanian entrepreneur Mariamu Staford and Zimbabwean educator Nodumo Ncomanzi.
People with albinism – a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes – are frequently shunned and attacked in Africa due to a lack of awareness about the rare genetic condition.
In some countries, they are targeted for their body parts which are prized in witchcraft for use as lucky charms or in magic potions. Women risk rape due to myths suggesting sex with a woman with albinism can cure AIDS.
Rising reports of ritual and witchcraft-related killings for body parts in countries such as Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi in recent years has prompted the United Nations to appoint a special expert to protect people with albinism.
The six women on the expedition have faced their own struggles growing up with albinism – some more horrific than others – and are now fighting the stigma and raising awareness about the condition.
Ten years ago, Staford had her arms hacked off by three men as she slept with her infant son. With help from a charity and aided by prosthetics and a special machine, she started her own knitting business and is now a prominent activist in Tanzania.
The other women told stories of how they were abandoned by their parents when they were born, or how they were bullied at school, or even abused and raped because of having albinism.
Some of the women said they were unaware of what their condition was until they reached adulthood – struggling through school due to poor vision and not understanding why they could not play outside as their skin blistered so easily in the sun.