When Looking Different Makes You Fear For Your Life
In addition to the difficulties of growing up in poverty, Yona was born with a disease which makes his white skin stand out in stark contrast to his friends in Tanzania. It causes severe medical issues, but worse of all, it causes him to live in fear for his life.
15 May, 2017
People with albinism lack an enzyme necessary for producing melanin. It renders those affected mostly devoid of pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. Albinism comes with many medical complications, and in Tanzania, it comes with a terror that you may be the victim of violence—having one of your limbs hacked off by a witch doctor.
Since 2000, a string of murders has left 72 Tanzanians with albinsim dead and several others maimed. The killings are believed to have been motivated by a lucrative trade in albino body parts; some Africans believe these body parts possess magical powers to bring wealth and good luck. The potions can be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market.
The Tanzanian government has taken action in the wake of the slaughters, opening shelters for children with the condition and commissioning a task force to investigate the killings. This was the uncertain future that Yona was born into.
At birth, his parents immediately knew something was wrong. Yona was their third child and he looked nothing like his two elder siblings. After an anxious meeting at the local hospital, it was confirmed he had albinism.
A family already vulnerable because of poverty, they now felt the social stigma attached to their young son’s condition.
People whispered about him when they walked down the street, rumours spread about his conception; that his mother must have had relations with a spirit, and the family feared being the target of violence.
Yona’s father, Mosses Ezekiel Manzi, works as a small business trader, selling plastics and nylon to earn a living. His mother is a peasant farmer who grows vegetables to sell. Their combined income of around AU $6.08 per day, has never been enough to support their family of eight. Not only did they have five children of their own, they also took in their young niece, Isabella.
When Yona was five, his life took a dramatic turn when he was registered into Compassion’s program.
Being at the Compassion project provided an environment of love, care and protection, which allowed this shy boy’s confidence and trust in people to grow.
“Before I joined Compassion I had not enrolled in any school. My parents could not afford to send all of us to school at the same time because of school fees. If there was a need for one child to wait, I was always the victim because I had not been enrolled,” Yona said.
“But after I was registered in the Compassion program, I started nursery school. Since then, I have been supported in many ways. I get school education supplies, such as textbooks , and I have been given an opportunity to study at a competent school. These could not have been possible without support I have received. Also, my parents have been working hard and improving our home environment, making it easier for me to learn.”
While Yona’s life improved with the opportunity for an education, the medical issues associated with albinism made everyday tasks hard.
“Sometimes I walked to and from school when my parents were not able to afford transport fees for me. I faced sunburn because of my skin, especially during hot seasons, and my sight in the sun is much disturbed,” says Yona.
Yona has impaired vision and suffers rapid eye movement, common for people with albinism. For him, Compassion’s Medical fund has become a lifeline when his family can’t afford the cost of medicines and treatment.
But he has overcome every obstacle thrown at him, even the jeering from his classmates.
“My fellow students and people nicknamed me ‘mzungu’ meaning ‘white man.’ It was a bit hard for me to accept such comments or jokes, but now I am used to them and their jokes are diminishing slowly as they see my determination and what I have been able to achieve,” Yona says.
His hard work paid off—Yona was one of the best students in his school. In fact, his scores earned him a position among the students awarded first division. With these results, Yona is optimistic he can achieve his dream for the future.
“From the very beginning when I started secondary school education, I fell in love with science subjects. My plans are to got to university and become a chemical engineer,” says Yona, smiling.
Yona’s sponsor, whom he’s had since 2004, has been instrumental in getting him through the hard times.
“My sponsor has stood by me from the beginning. He has been sending encouraging words about the future and about my dream,” Yona said.
“In his letters he always lets me know that he’s praying for me. He also recognises my birthdays and has been sending birthday gifts and bookmarks to me every year. His support to me is invaluable. It could be very difficult without his support. I still need his prayers and support to achieve my dream.”
The Medical fund helps children like Yona, who need extra medical help beyond what sponsorship can cover. You can help stop the suffering of children with urgent medical needs by donating to the Medical fund today.
Words by Charles Ngowi and Rebekah Wilesmith.