Kenya fights deadly stigma with al­bino pageant

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

NAIROBI — In many parts of Africa al­bi­nos are stig­ma­tised or hunted for their body parts, but for one night in Kenya those with the con­di­tion took to the cat­walk to show off their unique beauty.

Billed by or­gan­is­ers as the first pageant of its kind, young al­bino men and women on Fri­day com­peted for the ti­tle of Miss and Mr Al­binism Kenya. “Peo­ple with al­binism are not seen as beau­ti­ful and hand­some so it is very rare to find those two words in the same sen­tence,” said Isaac Mwaura, Kenya’s first al­bino law­maker and or­gan­iser of the pageant.

“We want to show our tal­ent, we want to con­front stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion, we want to change our nar­ra­tive to show that ac­tu­ally, yes it is pos­si­ble to have peo­ple with al­binism who are beau­ti­ful, who are con­fi­dent,” he told AFP.

Al­binism is a ge­netic con­di­tion that re­sults in a re­duc­tion of pig­ment in the hair, skin, and eyes, and can also af­fect vi­sion.

“In Africa peo­ple are dark. When some­one white is brought into the fam­ily, when a mother de­liv­ers a baby with al­binism they say it is a curse,” said Nancy Njeri Kar­iuki (24) from cen­tral Kenya, who took part in the pageant.

“There are a lot of chal­lenges, even your fel­low chil­dren when you are young they are so scared of you.”

How­ever Kar­iuki, with a brown wig and sparkling green eyes, bursts with con­fi­dence as she struts her stuff on the stage in front of a crowd in­clud­ing Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto. Con­tes­tants dress up as their cho­sen pro­fes­sion —fish­er­man, cook, a fe­male rugby player and a sol­dier — in one seg­ment to high­light that they too can be part of the work­force.

Ed­u­cat­ing and finding em­ploy­ment for peo­ple with al­binism is still a mas­sive chal­lenge, says Mwaura.

Sarah Wan­johi (21) who dresses up as what she is, the only al­bino skate­boarder she knows — wants Kenyans to learn “that we are beau­ti­ful . . . we can love, we can cat­walk . . . we can do what we are per­ceived not to do. It has been very hard for me, you know skate­board­ers don’t wear heels and stuff.”

The mod­els, cho­sen in a coun­try­wide se­lec­tion process, were put through a gru­elling boot­camp to teach them how to walk and put on a show.

Michael Ogochi (21) said the process worked won­ders for his self-con­fi­dence. “Grow­ing up for me was a tough jour­ney since ev­ery­one calls you a name and no one wants to be with you. You need to work on your self-es­teem and grow a tough skin.”

While al­bino suf­fer­ers’ pale com­plex­ion and fea­tures such as white eye­lashes and red-toned hair can lead to re­jec­tion from their com­mu­ni­ties, in re­cent years there has been a rise in al­bino mod­els in fash­ion mag­a­zines and on cat­walks.

How­ever in east­ern and south­ern African coun­tries, such as Tan­za­nia, Malawi, Bu­rundi and Mozam­bique, it is more of­ten grisly at­tacks on al­bi­nos, in­clud­ing chil­dren, that make head­lines.

Al­bi­nos are kid­napped and their body parts hacked off for use as charms and mag­i­cal po­tions in the be­lief that they bring wealth and good luck.

While such at­tacks are rare in Kenya, Mwaura said his Al­binism So­ci­ety of Kenya has had to step in and res­cue chil­dren and adults from rit­ual killings, and one al­bino died in an at­tack last year.

At one point in the pageant, the rowdy crowd falls silent as Mwaura in­cludes a bloody pic­ture of al­bino body parts from a Tan­za­nian at­tack in a slideshow.

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