Turn­ing their luck around

Tan­za­nia’s al­bino chil­dren get new pros­thetic limbs to fit their grow­ing bod­ies.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Family - By JULIE JACOBSON and VERENA DOBNIK

BARAKA Cos­mas, seven, is miss­ing half his right arm. Mwigulu Ma­to­nange, 14, lost his left arm. Em­manuel Festo, 15, lost his right, plus the fin­gers of his left hand. Pendo Sen­gerema, 16, had an arm sev­ered at the el­bow.

These young­sters from Tan­za­nia are not limb­less by ac­ci­dent or through some ge­netic glitch. Their am­pu­ta­tions were the work of hu­man hunters with ma­chetes who be­lieved chil­dren with al­binism – born with­out pig­ment in­stead of the brown skin of their fam­i­lies – are ghosts who bring good luck if their body parts are rit­u­ally sac­ri­ficed.

The ghastly tra­di­tion, which still per­sists in iso­lated, ru­ral areas of Tan­za­nia, is to hack off the chil­dren’s limbs and to turn the pieces into “good luck” po­tions for witchcraft rit­u­als. At­tack­ers who stole into Em­manuel’s vil­lage at night even tried to pull out his tongue and teeth.

The four youths are part of a group of vic­tims who have been get­ting treat­ment and free pros­thetic limbs in the United States since 2015. This spring, they re­turned for about two months to get re­place­ment pros­the­ses from Shriners Hos­pi­tals for Chil­dren in Philadel­phia to ac­com­mo­date their grow­ing bod­ies.

Dur­ing their trips to the US, they stay in New York City un­der the care of Elissa Mon­tanti and her Global Med­i­cal Re­lief Fund.

The non-profit helps chil­dren from cri­sis zones get cost-free pros­the­ses.

In this lat­est phase of their jour­ney, the chil­dren seemed more self-as­sured and gre­gar­i­ous af­ter liv­ing in Tan­za­nian safe houses funded by the Cana­dian char­ity Un­der the Same Sun.

Two years ago in New York, know­ing no English, they kept to them­selves and had to be coaxed to speak to vis­i­tors through a trans­la­tor.

Mwigulu said his re­place­ment limb helped him gain con­fi­dence. “I was feel­ing a bit bad that I have only one hand and oth­ers have both hands,” he said. He’s es­tranged from his par­ents, partly be­cause author­i­ties sus­pect his fa­ther may have been com­plicit in the at­tack.

Pendo said fit­ting in with other Tan­za­ni­ans has be­come less painful. When she wears her pros­the­sis, “it’s not easy for an­other per­son to dis­cover that I have one arm. It looks like I have both arms un­til some­one comes close”.

As they pre­pared to leave the US this month to head back to Tan­za­nia with their new limbs, the kids gath­ered around a Staten Is­land table for a meal cooked by an Amer­i­can friend.

Em­manuel used a metal hook at­tached to his arm to han­dle the cut­lery and food. A broad smile filled his face as he chat­ted with din­ner companions.

Though he’ll never for­get that at­tack­ers “cut off my arm and cut my face and teeth ... God turned it around and put peo­ple in my life that have brought joy and put a new mark in my life”.

Dur­ing their 10 weeks in New York, Baraka, the seven-year-old, be­gan to learn to play tunes on the pi­ano with one hand with the help of a teacher Ahmed Sha­reef, 20, who lost his right hand as a child dur­ing fight­ing in Iraq.

The boy re­turned to Tan­za­nia with a gift from Sha­reef: an elec­tronic key­board.

Since Tan­za­nia’s gov­ern­ment out­lawed witch doc­tors three years ago, hun­dreds have been ar­rested in killings of peo­ple with al­binism.

Baraka, Em­manuel, Pendo and Mwigulu have learned to push away their own unimag­in­able trau­mas and to live, even thrive.

At 16, Pendo hopes to be­come a teacher of Swahili, English and math.

Mwigulu’s pipe dream is to be Tan­za­nia’s pres­i­dent. “I will stand for the rights of peo­ple with al­binism,” he de­clared.

And Baraka wants to be a doc­tor.

— Photos: AP

Jen­nifer Stieber, (right), fits Festo with a new pros­thetic limb to ac­co­mo­date his grow­ing body.

Em­manuel has be­come adept at ad­just­ing his pros­thet­ics; wear­ing them has built his con­fi­dence.

Baraka was at­tacked and dis­mem­bered in the be­lief that his body parts will bring wealth.

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