Hidden for 22 years

02 August 2019 | Local News

A 35-year-old woman from Mazana village in Kavango East says she was hidden by her parents for 22 years, because she was born with albinism.

Speaking at an albinism stakeholder engagement at Rundu yesterday, Claudia Mwira David said she was born in 1984, but the first time she interacted with the people was in 2006, when she started her albinism treatment.

Albinism is a congenital disorder characterised by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.

David said her parents would keep a close eye to make sure she didn’t leave the house, and when people visited, she was hidden away.

“I grew up with my parents, who kept me indoors all the time. I could not go out of the house, and when people came to our house, I had to go and hide in a room, not to be seen,” she narrated.

David said those who were aware of her condition, especially the neighbours, would not visit their house because of cultural beliefs and myths attached to people born with albinism.

“People would not come to our house, which is why my parents had to try by all means to hide my existence from society.”

David explained that at the age of 22, when her skin condition worsened, she had to go for treatment, which resulted in her visiting a hospital, where she experienced society’s rejection first-hand.

When asked how she felt at that time, she said she had low self-esteem and opted to live in isolation.

She said society still discriminates against her, as there are some people who opt not to eat from the same plate as hers or even engage with her.

Her father, Ndumba Mwira David (70) confirmed her story.

Ndumba said they had no alternative, apart from keeping their daughter hidden from society.

He said at the time people were strong believers in cultural beliefs and myths, and they therefore did what they felt was best.

“People in the community were against us having a child born with albinism, therefore in order to be accepted in the community, we had to do what we did, because it was the best option we had at the time,” Ndumba said.

When asked how he feels now that his daughter is able to move freely in society, Ndumba said he is happy, adding the situation has become more acceptable, because the number of people born with albinism has increased in the community.

Ironically, one of their neighbours, who strongly rejected David, also later gave birth to a child born with albinism.

Ombudsman, John Walters, who is spearheading the public hearings on discrimination and the challenges faced by people living with albinism, said a lot still needs to be done to sensitise Namibians.

Walters said his office has realised that citizens have limited knowledge on what albinism is and what challenges people living with the condition face.

Walters added that because government recognises albinism as a form of disability, broader society needs to be made aware of issues related to the condition.

“We see them amongst us, but we are not aware of what they go through. This is why we try to learn the experiences of the people themselves and then come up with awareness campaigns,” Walters said.

Public hearings have taken place at Oshakati, Eenhana, Okongo and Rundu, with another hearing scheduled for Monday in Windhoek.

Justice ministry chief legal officer Ruusa Ntinda spoke out strongly against people with albinism using products, such as the dye to change the colour of their hair.

She also spoke out against the use of hair relaxers, saying the contents of these products are too strong for the skin of someone with albinism, which can result in skin cancer.

On the issue of artificial hair, Ntinda advised them to use any colour except black, as it attracts heat and can also cause cancer.

A group of people living with albinism, who attended the workshop, were all given suncare products after the event.