In many African countries, people with albinism often face discrimination and persecution due to the way they look.
The genetic disorder prevents skin cells from producing melanin, resulting in abnormal pigmentation of the skin, eyes and hair.
In Africa, it is estimated that 1 in every 5,000 have albinism with the prevalence of albinism in Tanzania estimated to be 1 in 1,400. People with the rare condition also have vision problems and are at risk of getting skin cancer.
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The sun is not their only worry, as many with this condition are often attacked and even murdered by their own relatives or strangers.
In Tanzania, Malawi and some other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, their body parts are usually sold to witch doctors with the belief that their bones can bring magical powers and wealth.
Jane Waithera is a human rights activist, speaker and change agent.
Born with albinism and abandoned by her mother as a baby, Waithera is hoping to break the stigma associated with her condition through her movement called “Climb for Albinism” that is giving women with albinism the opportunity to scale the continent’s biggest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
The move, according to Waithera, is also to amplify the voices of people with albinism and make them an inspiration to others.
Six African women with albinism who have overcome several challenges associated with their condition on October 1, began scaling the mountain and are expected to reach its peak October 7, “representing a monumental triumph for empowerment over persecution”, according to the organisers.
The novice climbers, who are visually impaired and between the ages of 26 and 35, are from Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Zimbabwe will each climb the 19,340-foot mountain every day for between four to five hours with a guide.
Apart from Waithera, here are the other women going on the expedition: Onyinye Edi, a Nigerian optometrist, Maah Koudia Keita, Senegalese bass player, Mariamu Staford, Tanzanian entrepreneur, Nodumo Ncomanzi, Zimbabwean educator and Regina Mary Ndlovu, a South African actress.
The climb will be led by award-winning Canadian adventure filmmaker and high-altitude climber Elia Saikaly and the team’s ascent will be documented and shared in real-time to a global audience.
Many of the women have gone through worse moments due to their condition and Tanzanian climber Mariam Staford, whose arms were hacked off while she slept beside her two-year-old son in 2008, believes that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro “is an opportunity to shift perspectives from victimhood to empowerment, while also raising awareness about victims of violent attacks.”
“All too often persons with albinism are portrayed as victims. We plan on breaking that stereotype by doing something that’s never been done before,” said Saikaly, the expedition leader.
“We will demonstrate to the world that despite the hardship many of these women have faced that they are powerful, capable and inspirational role models to women around the world. Kilimanjaro has been climbed, but never quite like this.”
The women, as part of their training in May, climbed Mount Kenya which stands at 5,199 meters, with two of them not being able to continue.
The women will face near sub-zero temperatures near the top of the mountain, and this will make it difficult to breathe, said the organisers but they were quick to add that there are safety measures in place, such as customized sunglasses and sunscreen to protect the eyes and skin of the women.
The entire team is comprised of over 50 Tanzanian and Kenyan support staff, including a doctor, guides, and a film crew that will offer support.
“The climb will give me and my sisters with albinism a platform to amplify our voices from Africa’s highest peak and challenge the stigma associated with albinism. We will be speaking not just for ourselves but also for the future generations of people with albinism, so that they may be given equal opportunities, dignity and respect. I see myself opening limitless doors to people with albinism in Africa
“Simply by being women with albinism living in Africa, we have climbed mountains before. Now we are conquering Mount Kilimanjaro to draw the world’s attention to the challenges we face every day,” Waithera said.
Watch the women’s climb of Mount Kenya below: