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A narrow escape – but for how long?

As a continuation of her first entry in the Voice Disruptors’ series, Jane Waithera, the Executive Director of Positive Exposure-Kenya is back again! This time to shed light on a series of unfortunate, almost fatal events happening to one particular family raising 3 children with albinism. In this blog she ruminates on a recent incident, unpacking a deep-rooted retrogressive culture in a region that is perceived as progressive. They were lucky for the second time, but what does this mean?

The phone call

In the wee hours of June 24th, I received a call that was deeply disturbing. The kind of call that sets your mind in turmoil and leaves you questioning the humanity of your own community. A house of one of the families that are part of the albinism advocacy project, supported under the Equality and Non-discrimination Programme of Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) was torched. This family has four children; three with albinism and one without.

Imagine losing all your family property and house just because your family has persons with albinism. Now imagine if this happened to you twice in a span of ten years. Sadly, this is the reality of a family that has recently become a target of deep-rooted superstitions and myths of albinism.

In Kenya, it is said that our village is one of the most progressive regions in Nyeri County; that it identifies itself with progression and modernisation, having nothing to do with superstition or witchcraft. This is why when certain incidences like this happen; I am left with more questions than answers. Isn’t it yet high time we broke the silence around the retrogressive culture and beliefs that dehumanize persons with albinism and put their lives at risk regardless of the ‘shame’ that this may tag along to a so-called progressive region?

While we have made progress on issues like sunscreen distribution in the country, we still have a lot to do in terms of developing policies that will guarantee the protection of human rights for persons with albinism
What more can we do to avoid such incidences?

To say this news was a rude shock to me would be an understatement. This is because we had just finished our community sessions on understanding albinism less than two weeks ago in that area. As we waited for official confirmation from the investigating officers on what started the fire, our fears were somewhat confirmed. On 10th July, an anonymous note was sent to the family. It was written by someone from the same community.  The note confirmed that they ( this community member) had been advised by a witch doctor to kill a person with albinism so that they would become rich.

The note

The note read:

Sorry for burning down your house. I had been told that if I kill a person with albinism or a parent of a person with albinism I can become a millionaire. I had been told this by a ‘mkamba’ but now I have also been told it’s a lie. Please forgive me. I’m sorry and repentant, sorry pastor. I was working in ‘Nyamari’ and ‘Thunguri’ but I’m now saved and going back to my home in ‘Muranga.’ Pray  hard for me as I have never done something like this before.

We have made a follow up with the family and ensuring that the matter was reported to Othaya police station. We did not stop there. We also filed a further complaint to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights as this was a repeat arson to the same family in a span of less than ten years.

However, within the same community, there are allies. We joined them in building a temporary shelter for the family and are in close communication with the family and investigation officers to ensure the perpetrators are brought to book. We are also part of a committee working on mobilising resources to rebuild the family home. While the investigating officers have not officially informed us of the possible motivation for this heinous crime, we acknowledge that from the assessment of both incidences the very likely motivation was albinism or and maybe family land.  

Although the note has since been taken to the investigating officer, no arrests or any progress has been made on the issue.

What next?

This case raises some emotional questions to the family and us too:

  • Can we really say that there is a safe region in Kenya that persons with albinism can live without fear?
  • Will families ever get the joy of raising their children with albinism?
  • Where will the children of this family go when they close school?
  • Where can they call safe? Do we have safe shelters for victims of human rights violations?
  • Will the children in this family and other similar families ever get the social support they need? Should they always live in constant fear yet they have all their rights?
  • Are the lives of PWA any less than other human beings; to be traded so callously for someone else’s wealth?

As I said, I was left with more questions than with answers. There is still a lot to be done. Quite a lot.

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