Harrison Tanga knew that something was wrong as he walked into the labour ward in western Kenya to meet his newborn child. “I could see nurses whisper amongst themselves as I passed by,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “No one wanted to tell me how my family was doing.”
When Tanga saw his wife, Matilda, holding a pale-skinned baby with blondish hair, he realised she had albinism – a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. “My wife had a strange expression on her face, a mixture of fear and maybe something else,” he said.
As a biology teacher, Tanga was not fazed, unlike many Kenyans who believe the pigment disorder is a curse, dubbing those with it “zeru”, meaning “ghost”.
Tanga went to his wife’s bedside and lifted the newborn into his arms and said she was his golden child. “He immediately named her Goldalyn,” Matilda said.
Their faith was rewarded last month when 14-year-old Goldalyn Kakuya scored the highest mark in the hotly-contested Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams, which make front page news in thise east African nation every year.
People with albinism, estimated at one in 15,000 sub-Saharan Africans, are frequently shunned, attacked and even killed. Education is critical because it gives them the chance to do safe, well-paid jobs, instead of being forced into menial work that exposes them to the sun.
Skin cancer is the primary killer of people with albinism in Africa, according to local rights groups.
Taunted by other children
Parents often abandon children with albinism or keep them out of school because they are seen as mentally retarded – a path Goldalyn’s loving family chose not to follow. But they could not shield her from the prejudice she endured every time she left the security of home, near Kakamega, in western Kenya.
“She would get taunted by other children when she went to school,” said Tanga.
“Some children would pinch her just to see how she would react. We also lived in constant fear of her being kidnapped.”
People with albinism are sometimes killed for their body parts, which are prized for use in witchcraft. Stigma and social exclusion make it hard for them to access education, health services and jobs. Many children with the disorder drop out of school because they are mocked for their appearance and there are not enough provisions for their poor eyesight, experts say.
But Goldalyn took the challenges in her stride. “She just kept working hard and working through some of the health conditions associated with albinism,” said her teacher, Augustine Manyengo. “Everyone liked her.”
Teachers attitudes are crucial, experts say. Because of ignorance around the condition, children with albinism in Kenya are often forced to enroll in special schools for the blind and to learn braille, which makes it harder to find work.
“Discrimination is the biggest hurdle,” said Isaac Mwaura, Kenya’s first senator with albinism. “First, at home, from parents unwilling to invest in their education. Then, in school, from both fellow pupils and teachers – all work against them.”
If teachers are trained, they can assess the needs of children with albinism, who might need to sit near the front of the class or read larger print.
“Integration is always the better option as long as the teachers and students have enough information on albinism,” said Mwaura. “It is best for the children to learn with their peers.”
As Goldalyn sat at home watching the television news, she was thrilled to see her name flash across the screen.
“I was confident that I would do well. I had prepared for this moment since the day I started school,” said Goldalyn, who wears her hair in long, blond braids. “From an early age, I knew that it was possible to achieve anything I set my mind to.”
The ambitious teenager, whose younger sister also has albinism, hopes to become a psychotherapist. “I want to understand why the children who taunted me were doing so and what can be done to change this,” she said.
Story credit: Daniel Wesangula/Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Floods could contaminate water sources: Davis & Shirtliff
Leading water and energy solutions provider, Davis & Shirtliff is advising Kenyans with wells, boreholes or reservoirs of possible water...
Jeff Koinange isn’t as smart as he’d like you to believe
Veteran journalist under fire following for allegedly betraying his shallow understanding of issues he discusses on the JKL show
Kenya to host continental congress on cleft lip and palate
The theme of the congress will be 'Shaping the future of cleft care in Africa by setting standards and protocols...
Flight attendant dies after tumbling from Emirates plane
The exact cause of the incident was not yet clear, but some witnesses cited possible suicide
Mombasa Road closed as River Athi bursts into homes
Thousands set to be affected after River Athi broke its banks and flooded the highway at the Green Park area...
Empowering Generation Z through technology
Africa needs to consider that it may be the role of the children to teach ICT skills to their elders,...
NTSA guide for drivers and pedestrians in heavy rains
Director General Francis Meja says the heavy rains experienced in most part of the country creates potentially dangerous conditions for road...
10,896 primary school girls to get sanitary towels
The needy girls will also get a year's supply of underwear as well as puberty education and life skills through...
Moving floods photos that show Nairobi is a ticking timebomb
The flooding once again put the country's capital in the spotlight as authorities continue to sit on plans to resuscitate...
Chris Kirubi’s first public appearance after treatment
The silence from his family and business associates since November has raised concerns about his health
Key issues that determine a Kenyan’s citizenship
Cheaper smartphones set pace for mobile growth, Jumia White Paper shows
Standard dons a brave face as it sinks deeper in the red
Former Nation MD joins Standard Group board
Kwale snake chammer subdues a python with a kiss
President Uhuru angling to buy Nation Media
Linus Kaikai to take up a new job after being fired from NTV
Why Ruto’s 680 Hotel shut down Simmers Club
5 simple tricks Gordon Ogada used to win Sh230m mega jackpot
End of the road for David Ndii’s Saturday Nation column
Coca Cola, music superstar to create W. Cup anthem
Citizen TV’s Lilian Muli sex talk with KCPE star turns off viewers
CapitalWorks buys Aon stakes in Sub-Sahara Africa
Why Otiende Amollo walked out on NTV
Butchery is profitable but you need to have these facts
Person of Interest3 days ago
Chris Kirubi’s first public appearance after treatment
Executive Decision2 weeks ago
Shrewd businessman who squeezed Sh1bn from Uhuru milk deal
Media Watch1 week ago
Bank seizes Swaleh Mdoe’s Mercedes-Benz
Ventures1 week ago
Lady strikes big business in keeping luggage in city centre