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Zimbabweans with albinism ‘feel remembered, loved’ (UM News)

March 22, 2022

In Zimbabwe and worldwide, people living with albinism often suffer stigma and discrimination. Albinism is a congenital condition characterized in humans by the partial or complete absence of melanin pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.

Albinism is associated with several vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus and amblyopia. Lack of skin pigmentation makes individuals susceptible to sunburn and skin cancers. People living with albinism need sunscreen lotion and creams for protection from ultraviolet rays of the sun. 

The United Methodist Church’s Harare East District, in partnership with the Johnstown District in the Western Pennsylvania Conference, recently supported 73 people living with albinism. Each person, regardless of religion, received six sunscreen lotions, six sunscreen creams, a sun hat and a food basket. 

Beneficiary Tawanda Musana, 37, a member of the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa Church in the Eastview suburb, applauded The United Methodist Church for the gifts and inspirational messages.

“The way everyone was communicating with us showed we are recognized as equal human beings,” he said. “The church made us feel remembered and loved. We never expected such big gifts.”

The Rev. Sung S. Chung, Johnstown district superintendent, said the district hopes to continue its relationship with the Harare East District.

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said ministry with people with albinism is one of the focus areas for the church in Zimbabwe.

“With its policy of open minds and open hearts as the driver of its ministries, The United Methodist Church embraces everyone,” he said. “We are thankful to our partners in Western Pennsylvania. This ministry is going a long way in improving lives.”

The Rev. Oscar Nyasha Mukahanana, Harare East District superintendent, said the event had touching moments as people with albinism chronicled the challenges they faced, noting that women and children suffer the most.

Mukahanana and the Rev. Gift Kudakwashe Machinga shared messages of love and encouragement to empower people in the fight against stigma, discrimination and demeaning language.

Chipo Chitseko, from Damofalls, said, “I was blessed with three children with albinism, and I am very grateful for the support from the church. Lotions and creams are very expensive.” A 125 ml. (4 fluid ounces) tube for her three children, ages 14, 8 and 4, costs $15 and lasts less than a week. 

“The children cannot see properly because they are visually impaired and do not have eyeglasses,” Chitseko said.

Esther Mavura, 25, faces many challenges in her neighborhood due to her condition. “It is difficult to find rented accommodation as some homeowners evict me after just a few months, saying they cannot live with me,” she said.

“Some neighbors are not comfortable with me fetching water from the same facilities as they do,” Mavura continued. “They say I should ask others to fetch the water, and I have to pay those willing to assist me. It breaks my heart.”

Kudakwashe Dawaka, 22, spends most of his time indoors to avoid the harsh effects of the sun. “People look down on me,” he said. “I have to work extra hard to prove I am capable of achieving anything I set out to do.”