Discrimination against albinos is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and in Tanzania it has taken a deadly turn. In 2008 at least 35 albino people were killed and many others mutilated—victims of a grisly criminal trade fueled by superstition and greed. At the heart of the problem is the belief among witch doctors that albino body parts, hair, and blood bring good luck and riches. As the demand for these parts has increased, these same witch doctors also stand to reap a tidy profit.
In response to the increased violence, the Children’s Book Project for Tanzania and Book Aid International published a new schoolbook, Wema Amwokoa Noa, which tells the story of Wema, an albino child who suffers prejudice and discrimination. The tale is augmented with scientific facts about the condition and an accompanying guide to help teachers understand the issues and lead classroom discussions, including vital information on how to involve albino children in the dialogue.
Albinism, a genetic disorder characterized by lack of melanin pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes, is considered very rare. In Britain, for instance, it affects fewer than 1 in 20,000. In Tanzania, however, conservative estimates put the ratio at 1 in 1,400, while the Albino Association of Tanzania estimates that there are more than 150,000 living among the country’s 41 million citizens.
Despite the global public attention that the recent spate of killings has created, Wema Amwokoa Noa and the teachers’ guide remain the only teaching materials on albinism available in Tanzania. Alli Chanzi of the Tanzanian Albino Society is keen to ensure that every school in Tanzania receives copies of the books. The books, he says, represent an important step for albinos in their “efforts to come out of the shadows and live dignified lives, free from fear.”