Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria has become a safe haven for a community of Tanzanians with albinism
Albinos face medical dangers, but also the threat of violent attacks from people wishing to harvest organs and bones
“I was rejected at birth by my father,” says Christina Wagulu. “My uncles have threatened to kill me because of my condition. Men stigmatize me and don’t like me.”
Wagulu has albinism, a genetic condition which in her home country Tanzania brings with it a host of dangers.
Some are medical. Albinos have a skin pigment deficiency, resulting in poor eyesight and an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer. One startling figure from non-governmental organization Standing Voice claims that 98% of Tanzanian albinos die from skin cancer before the age of 40.
The greater fear, however, comes from humans, both strangers and family alike.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, living with albinism carries great stigma.
In parts of the Great Lakes region, albinos are regularly killed for their bones and organs, which are sold to witch doctors for “charms and magical potions”, according to Amnesty International. The group labels it a “macabre trade … also fueled by a belief that the bones of people with albinism contain gold.”
In Malawi, the UN reported in 2016 that Malawi’s albinos were at risk of “total extinction.”
Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world, at one in 1,500 people. Despite its prevalence, there’s still a lack of education and tolerance in some quarters.
Wagulu is a resident of Ukerewe Island in the middle of Lake Victoria, in the north of the country. The largest inland island in Africa, for years it has played host to a growing community of albinos that currently numbers 75, according to AFP.
Some of Ukerewe’s albinos were rescued from communities for their own protection. Others were abandoned by parents. A four-hour ferry ride from Mwanza on the mainland, together they have found refuge in relative isolation, says Ian Brennan, who listened to Wagulu’s story, among others, in the summer of 2016.
Ukerewe brought a change of fortune for the young woman.
“I have always lived a very lonely life,” she admits, “until I found a boyfriend who also has albinism like myself.”