Most are also hypersensitive to sunlight, yet teachers often make them participate in physical education classes outside without proper protection from the sun, such as hats, sleeves or sunscreen. Because of all these barriers, children with albinism lag far behind their classmates, she said.
Cesaria knows that stigma and discrimination firsthand. When she was born, her father walked out on the family; and she dropped out of high school after being followed by men she feared would kidnap her. She was so frightened that she never returned to finish the classes she needed to graduate. Even now, Cesaria has overheard her students wishing for a teacher without albinism. Outside of class, she is often called “money” and “business” and insulted in public: “Look at this business; if we take her, we can make some money.” Some students and parents initially refused to shake her hand or sit next to her, for fear of “catching” albinism.
“When people say terrible things to me, I never answer,” she told us. “I wonder why they can't they treat me like a normal person. I'm always afraid to go out of the house.”
Despite her fears, Cesaria dreams of becoming a full-time teacher: “I love what I'm doing; everyone should have a good life free from discrimination. The government must do something to take care of our basic necessities for education, provide equality also for employment, and prevent discrimination. They should protect our equality and rights. We need to have the same protections as everyone else.”
It is a perpetual struggle for people with albinism. Even after they die, there is no peace: their graves are at risk of exhumation by individuals or gangs attempting to obtain body parts to sell to witch doctors. Flavia Pinto’s father died in 2015 at age 52, likely due to health complications related to his albinism. Almost a year later, thieves broke open his grave and stole parts of his body.
“My father was a hero. It’s a cliché that everyone says, but he has this heroic quality,” Flavia told us. “What I learned from him is this contribution you have for your neighbour, the honesty, the respect you have for your neighbour regardless of color, race, religion ... he suffered many injustices.”
In his honor, Flavia and her family founded Azemap, which now helps more than 200 people in Tete province access critical skincare products. Because of the spike in murders and kidnappings, people are more afraid, she said. “When we go visit them, we have to wear T-shirts like these to identify that we are part of the organization.”