People with albinism in many African countries usually face discrimination and prosecution due to the way they look.
In Kenya, as part of moves to curb the stigmatisation and instil confidence in people with the disorder, 24-year-old Allan Herbert, a Kenyan journalism graduate and an albino as well, has started a football team for his peers – the first football team in Kenya for people living with albinism.
While growing up with the condition, Herbert said he did not have to go through the same stigmatisation and discrimination that his colleagues have had to deal with.
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That notwithstanding, anytime he played football, he had to be protected from the sun by his peers. This treatment and the harrowing stories of attacks and killings meted out to his peers compelled him to start the football team.
He told the VOA that he basically created the team – Black Albinism Football Club – to “help people with the genetic disorder to fight for their space in Kenya.”
Over the weekend, the team won its first match – 4 to 2 in a penalty shootout.
“Once we fight the discrimination, once we beat the stigmatization, then we can see the greatness in us. We have won fair and square,” Herbert, who is not only the founder but the captain of the team told VOA after the game.
Celebrating with his teammates, Herbert said he is hopeful that the team, which is only 6 months old, would one day play in the Kenyan premier league and perhaps represent the country in international games.
“We are not different in any way. The only thing is our skin is a bit pale and we have issues with our eyesight. But that does not make us less as people,” Herbert said.
Just like many other African countries, albinos in Kenya continue to be subjected to numerous forms of discrimination and abuse. The genetic disorder prevents skin cells from producing melanin, resulting in abnormal pigmentation of the skin, eyes and hair.
People with the rare condition also have vision problems and are at risk of getting skin cancer. But the sun is not their only worry, as many with this condition are often attacked and even murdered by their own relatives or strangers.
Human rights groups have continuously warned of the rising number of attacks on people with albinism by human traffickers who allegedly sell albino body parts to witch doctors and traditional healers in neighbouring Tanzania.
Witch doctors reportedly use albino body parts for their magical charms and potions that some locals regressively believe can bring luck and prosperity. This has consequently led to a dramatic increase in albino attacks and killings in East Africa.
People living with albinism, especially children, are usually exposed to sexual abuse as some communities believe that having sex with an albino helps to cure sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.
In other communities, children born with albinism are either murdered or offered as “sacrifice” to “gods” since they are seen as a curse.