Have any of you ever heard of PWA??? This is an interesting acronym that many of us are not familiar with because we may not know anyone that is considered a PWA.
PWA means ‘People with Albinism’. Although not all that common, there are quite a few of us that have seen Albinos. I read that it is estimated that there are between 1 in 20,000 people that have albinism; that means that of the approximately 6.6 million people in the entire world, only approximately 388,000 people are Albinos. Not many, right???
What is albinism you ask??? It is when an individual’s body is not able to make melanin (dark brown to black pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eyes). This means that their hair and skin are white, they may have significant vision impairment, and they are not able to stand much of the sun. Many people with albinism have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life threatening skin cancers.
Have you ever heard of ‘persecution of people with albinism’??? This is a belief that certain body parts of albinistic people transmit magical powers. Sound crazy; a little difficult to believe??? Well,
this is the case in many parts of the African Great Lakes region. There are witch doctors as well as villagers that have promulgated and exploited the body parts of Albinos as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions proclaiming they are magic and will bring the person using them prosperity.
Because of this, there are many, many people with albinism that have been persecuted, dismembered, and even killed. On the other hand, they are also ostracized and killed because they are presumed to have been born with a curse and will bring ‘bad luck’ to the family.
A few months ago, a group of experts from the United Nations began to bring attention to the discrimination against people with albinism in at least 15 African states, particularly those in Tanzania. To date people are the victims of ritual attacks, and are routinely mistreated; this is especially the case with youth because they are not always able to protect themselves.
What seems to make the mistreatment of these human beings acceptable is the belief that they are ghosts, and they are not human; they can be wiped off the globe and no one would care. Why are people that have albinism treated in such a horrible way? Why are there so many stories and photos of children with missing limbs and who have been brutally murdered? Under the international human rights law it is the duty of the State to protect persons with albinism, why are they not being protected? Why are the animals brutalizing these people, particularly children not being brought to justice?
Further, why are parents and family members afforded the right to reject and abandon children that are born with albinism? The pressures of society has dictated that the well-being of these children is not important at all. One UN representative reported that the stigma, lifelong social exclusion and general discrimination are similar to that of the racial discrimination many suffer here in the United States.
What can be done? So happy that you asked! Regardless of whether we are speaking about albinism, or any other form of ‘minorityism’ (yes, I just made up the word), we need to teach youth that people are different; and that it is okay! Discrimination of any kind begins at home, and it begins as early as a child is able to learn. Educating our children is extremely important in dictating how they will react to someone with albinism, someone of another race, someone of another religion; living in the world that we do there are many differences in all of us…but so many similarities. We may look differently, pray differently, eat different foods; but we all bleed red, we all breath in and exhale out, we all have hearts that beat involuntarily, and we all someday must die and return to our Creator.
Mrs. Tomaro M. Pilgrim, MS