Youth with albinism defy the odds to get education

Sunday February 17 2019

Severine Nicolas speaks during the 10th

Severine Nicolas speaks during the 10th anniversary of Under the Same Sun in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO FILE 

By Rosemary Mirondo @mwaikama rmirondo@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. While the fight to protect people with albinism rages on, Severine Nicolaus, a student from Tabora, says he was able to beat the odds of discrimination from his family.

Severine has become the only child out of seven children to pursue higher education.

But his fear like the rest of the young person with albinism is whether employers will accept him.

Albinism is a congenital disorder that leaves little to no pigment in a person’s skin, hair and eyes. It has a higher prevalence among people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Severine, who is pursuing a mining engineering course at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, said that his father abandoned the family as soon as he discovered that his son was a person with albinism.

“When I grew up, I was told that my father abandoned my mother because of me, and that was not all, my mother later abandoned me to start another family. It was disheartening, but I had to build a life for myself,” he said.

Explaining, he said that his father was far from home when he was born, and two days later he came to see his new child that had been born, but ran away when he discovered he was a person with albinism.

According to him, that was not all, when he was two years old, his mother also left with his elder sister to start a new life, leaving him under the care of his ailing grandmother.

He said that when he was in Standard One his grandmother became so sick that he had to be taken to his mother, who showed clearly that she was not happy with the situation. “She left me and because primary school was free, I went to school like other children but when I reached Standard Four I started doing menial jobs to take care of my other needs,” he said.

In 2011, he was lucky to have got a scholarship from a non-governmental organisation, Under the Same Sun, and through hard work and commitment he passed the Standard Seven exam and was told to study at Tabora Boys Secondary School, but opted to continue with his scholarship in another school where he passed his examination to pursue higher education.

“I was able to beat the odds despite discrimination against me by my family, and my hope and believe is that one day we shall have a place in society with no discrimination,” he said.

His hopes were echoed by Nancy Raymond, a first-year student at the University of Dar es Salaam, who is pursuing a bachelor of commerce and accounting course.

“I was lucky to get a bursary from Under The Same Sun who helped me achieve my dream of going to university to attain my goals,” she said.

Like the rest of the young community with albinism pursuing different levels of education she is not sure whether society will accept their achievements and employ them.

They said this during an event to celebrate 10 years of Under the Same Sun that was founded by Mr Peter Ash.

Under The Same Sun is aimed at helping people with albinism to overcome discrimination through education and advocacy.

Reports show that at least 75 people with albinism have been killed in Tanzania since 2006 while more than 100 people have been attacked.

People with albinism are regularly hunted and killed for their body parts, which are sold for use in witchcraft.

It is a lucrative trade, with the body parts believed to possess magical powers to bring good luck.

Mr Ash said he was taking care of 400 children by providing funding for school fees, shelter, food, clothing, and health matters among all other vital social services.

But noted that his budget was tight to cater for more needs of children with albinism.

He noted that he decided to establish Under the Same Sun after it came to his attention that the rights o fpeople with albinism were being infringed upon in the Lake Zone.

He said they supported at least 400 children with albinism in private schools where they are assured of maximum protection.

“We would like to help others but the cost of maintaining just one is about $1400 annually because we cater for all their basic needs including school fees, accommodate, food, and currently our budget is very tight,” he explained.

He hopes that one day -- which could be today, tomorrow, or even 10 years from now or 30 years, people with albinism will have equal rights like everyone else globally.

However he noted that finds for education and advocacy are derived from his family in Canada.

“I decided to save people with albinism in this country, after it became known they were being killed and discriminated against, but our work, is not yet done, especially as two weeks ago there has been another attempt against two children,” he said.

He said despite great effort that has been made in 10 years to advocate for the rights of people with albinism, another attempt against them was done in January this year.

“It has been confirmed by local authorities that the first attempt was done on a six-year-old boy living in Kwimba, Mwanza, and another on a 19-year-old boy in Ngorongoro, Arusha,” he said.

He stressed that people with albinism had equal rights like any other person and should be accorded the same privileges that entail right to live, protection among others.

Meanwhile IPP executive chairman Reginald Mengi said the only thing that would stop discrimination and killings of people with albinism was love.

He promised to hire three youths with albinism in his company.

Under the Same Sun training officer Kondo Seif said some of the children they supported had graduated and were looking for jobs.

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