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Society

Liberian albinos fight for rights

In Africa, albinos face discrimination. It can lead to verbal abuse or even ritual killings. In Liberia, albinos are discovering that there is strength in numbers and have formed their own advocacy group.

U-Thant Smith is a 27-year-old Liberian albino and president of the Organizing United Albinos Association of Liberia, a group set up to fight for the rights and protection of albinos in the West African nation. He is supported by the group's general secretary, Nasuma Kamara.

Smith told Deutsche Welle "albinos face lots of difficulties in this country" including "segregation and discrimination."

Smith said that being an albino in a black African nation like Liberia makes you stand out within society. Being set apart is generally accompanied by prejudice. He said albinos can barely participate in society and when they try to "people always say things that are not necessary."

U-Thant Smith, President of the Organizing United Liberian Albinos Association of Liberia, Nasuma Kamara, secretary general. Photo: Julius Kanubah

Nasuma Kamara and U-Thant Smith are working to end discrimination against albinos in Liberia

Smith feels both anger and sadness at the way he and other albinos are treated in Liberia.

"It is not easy. It hurts me a lot. I feel very frustrated. Sometimes, if I'm ready to express it, tears set in my eyes. Why will we be born in this kind of society and be discriminated? I don't know why," he said.

Despite such challenges, Smith, whose parents are also albino, takes pride in his achievements. He has completed high school in a nation which has a high rate of illiteracy and now has his sights set on a place at university.

"Love my complexion and my color"

Numasie Kamara (not to be confused with Nasuma Kamara) is also a member of the advocacy group. She is an albino who was born to black parents and told Deutsche Welle she is the only albino in her family and that makes her feel special, in spite of the negative reactions from society.

"I feel very proud because that's how God fixed me," she said. "I love my complexion and my color."

Kamara is a primary school teacher, married with "a lovely all black family." She has three children. "All of them are black. My husband is black. I feel pleased.

Teachers being given a post-civil war refresher course at the University Monrovia (Liberia): Photo: (BRL474-191203)

Liberia is recovering from a civil war that ended in 2003

Civil society activist Clarence Farley said more needs to be done to end the discrimination of albinos in Liberia. "They are being discriminated against – which is wrong – and this questions their fundamental rights," he said.

Another activist, Anderson Miamen, told Deutsche Welle a change in attitude was needed. "These people are humans like us, black people like us, and we should not discriminate against them," he said.

Preventing discrimination through education

Earlier this year a group of independent experts from the United Nations drew attention to discrimination against albinos in the East African nation of Tanzania, where they are the victims of ritual attacks and routinely mistreated.

The UN also noted on its news website that albinism was "a genetically inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity." It added that almost all people with albinism were visually impaired. They may also have a life span shortened by lung disease or may develop life-threatening skin cancers.

The UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, said educating children about albinism was important in preventing discrimination.

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