Monday, September 11th, 2017 (Meeting Honorable Isaac Mwaura)
First thing today, we dropped Alex’s youngest son, John, off at school. He goes to Oloolaiser Secondary (boarding) School. Alex is friends with the principal and most of the staff there, so we went in and I got to meet all of John’s teachers. They even gave us chai!
After dropping John off, we headed into Nairobi. We ate a quick lunch at the Garden Square Restaurant before heading to the Kenyatta International Conference Center (also known as the honeycomb building). This building, when first constructed, was the tallest building in Kenya. It is an iconic part of the Nairobi skyline – and we got to go inside of it to meet with Honorable Isaac Mwaura.
A little background about Isaac…
Like most children born with albinism in Kenya, Isaac grew up in a single parent home. His mother gave him all she had, despite his condition. She said that when she saw him, she saw a beautiful baby boy, and that was it. Starting at a very early age, arguably in kindergarten, he held power and responsibility in the classroom. At university, he studied Special Education and French, and later went on to get his masters in Public Relations. In 2006, he co-founded the Albinism Society of Kenya with Alex. In 2013, he was elected to Parliament, becoming the first person with albinism to hold a position in Parliament. Over the years, he has worked with Alex to create changes in the government to benefit people with albinism.
Alex and Isaac are long time friends. In fact, Alex was (and still is) Isaac’s mentor when he was getting into the political scene. I wanted to sit down with Isaac and talk about the state of the Kenyan government as far as meeting the needs of people with albinism, and about what he thinks the future holds.
Throughout our conversation, Isaac stressed the importance of esteem and opportunity for people with albinism, along with the education of the public. He also talked about how there needs to be a major shift in the way the government handles people with disabilities and getting them the resources they need.
Overall, it was a very inspiring conversation and left me feeling very hopeful.
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 (David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, ASK Office, home visits)
Today started out lovely and light-hearted. In the morning, we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/Elephant Orphanage inside of Nairobi National Park. This center houses about 30-40 elephants that were either abandoned by their mothers or orphaned by poaching or other human-wildlife conflicts. (This one’s for you Kelsey)
After finishing at the elephant orphanage, we went to the Albinism Society of Kenya (ASK) office. ASK is funded through the government, specifically through the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, as well as donations from individuals and organizations. While there, we met with Daniel, the ASK office manager. He talked about how there is a constant struggle for ASK to have enough money to function and do what it is intended to do. Daniel walked me through the various projects they did for education, awareness and the betterment of the lives of people with albinism. There is so much potential for ASK to be life changing for people, but as Daniel said, “We want to do so much, but we can’t because there’s no funds.”
After visiting the ASK office, we headed out with Daniel to Kawangware slum outside of Nairobi to do some home visits.
The first family that we visited was a single mother, Mama Shalin, and her two daughters, Shalin and Michelle, who both have albinism. As many stories of children with albinism go, their father left after the second daughter was born, claiming he couldn’t handle having two children with albinism. Their mother runs a small vegetable stand down the street to make ends meet. These two girls were so beautiful and became so confident in themselves when they had their picture taken.
The next family we met was Mama Eugene and her son, Eugene (2 years old). When Eugene was born with albinism, his dad left. The family had to leave the last place they were living because people were following them, threatening to take Eugene to Tanzania to sell his body parts. The family relocated to Kawangware slum.
In Tanzania, some people believe that albino body parts can hold mystical or healing powers. People with albinism are sometimes mutilated or even killed for people to get ahold of these body parts to sell on the black market or to witch doctors.
The last woman we met was Faith. Faith has vitiligo, which is slightly different than albinism. People with vitiligo are born with melanin (and color) in their skin but as time goes on, they lose the melanin. Unlike albinism, people with vitiligo don’t have any issues with their eyesight, only with their skin. Faith had a similar story to Eugene- she had to move from where she was living because people were threatening to kill her. She said that even still, people in the neighborhood harass her and steal her food because she looks different. While we were standing outside talking with Faith, Mama Shalin overheard a group of men passing by talking about Faith, and Alex (and probably myself) and how much money they could get from selling them or their body parts in Tanzania. Saying, “those are millions right there, walking around.” And this was right outside Faith’s door.
After leaving the slum, we went to drop Daniel off and meet his daughter, Rebecca, who also has albinism. Rebecca had such an energy! She wants to be a model when she grows up, and when I pulled my camera out to start taking pictures of her, you could tell she’d be good at it.
Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 (National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) offices, Imani Children’s Home
Our first stop was the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, where Alex works. He heads the department that deals with people with albinism. While there we got to meet Loise, aka Miss Albinism, who is currently doing a marketing and communications internship at NCPD.
After a quick tour of the offices, we headed to Imani Children’s home in a neighborhood of Nairobi. We heard there were two children with albinism at this home, so we wanted to pay them a visit. When we arrived at Imani, both boys were in school, so we had a chat with the head of the home, Steve. Steve himself had been raised in Imani Children’s home. He gave us a history of the home and talked about how they handle having two children with albinism (who are the first children with albinism to come to this home). The two boys with albinism are Ocampo (in preschool), and Clinton (grade 8). Both came to Imani at a very very young age. After hearing about Imani, we went to the boys schools to meet them. Clinton seemed very shy and reserved, but Ocampo opened up quickly and had the best smile. The headmasters of the schools were so happy to meet us and so thankful that someone was paying special attention to the people with albinism at their schools. They were grateful because they themselves didn’t really know how to deal with it or how they could best help the boys.
Kenya 2017 Week 2 : PT 2 coming soon