Yona was born in an impoverished city with a disease that makes his white skin stand out in stark contrast to his friends in Tanzania. It causes severe medical issues, but worst of all, it causes him to fear for his life.
In Tanzania, people with albinism live in terror of having their limbs hacked off by a witch doctor. Since 2000, a string of murders has left at least 72 Tanzanians with albinism dead and several others maimed. Authorities believe that a lucrative trade in albino body parts has driven the killings. People with albinism lack an enzyme necessary for producing melanin, so they have little pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. Some Africans believe these body parts possess magical powers to bring wealth and good luck. Potions made with the body parts 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.
Fearing for their son’s life increases stress for Yona’s already struggling parents. Yona’s father 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 $4.46 per day has never been enough to support their family of eight. They have five children of their own and took in their young niece.
In addition to their poverty-related stresses, Yona’s parents worry about his safety. Since he was born, the family has faced a social stigma attached to their son’s condition. People on the street whispered about him.
When Yona was 5, his life improved when he was registered into Compassion’s program. Being at the Compassion center provided an environment of love, care and protection that 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,” Yona says.
“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.”
His Compassion tutors and church leaders have worked to educate the community about albinism. The Tanzanian government has also stepped up efforts to educate people about the condition. As a result, Compassion Tanzania leaders say, the stigma and threats against people with albinism have lessened.