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Albinism rights defender: “Don’t be afraid to do what’s right.”
April 11, 2016

Albino Rights Defender Vicky Ntetema
Tanzania’s Vicky Ntetema receives an award from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony

As a reporter for the BBC World Service, Tanzania’s Vicky Ntetema had a passion for the truth and a willingness to discern fact from fiction, even if it meant going undercover and risking her life to expose falsehoods that jeopardized the lives of her neighbors simply because they looked different.

Thanks to her dedication, the world learned that being born albino in Tanzania can mean anything from social shunning to a severed limb or even being murdered because of myths spread by local witchdoctors.

Do you have what it takes to be a good journalist? Are you willing to uncover the truth and share it, even if the truth is unpopular?

“With journalism, one cannot go wrong, because if you have the facts, if you do your research and you know that what you’re doing is right, nothing can stop you,” Ntetema said. “No threat can frighten you in this world because you have the facts, you have done your research, and you know that what you are saying is the truth.”

On March 29, former Secretary of State John Kerry recognized Ntetema for taking risks to expose the murders of people with albinism by giving her the International Women of Courage Award. Her reporting “saved lives and it sparked strong statements of condemnation by Tanzanian officials,” he said. Now as a leader of the nongovernmental organization Under the Same Sun, Ntetema is “bringing people with albinism out of the shadows and advocating for their fundamental rights.”

Ntetema wants young Africans to understand that “when it comes to human rights, there is no compromise.” Despite the falsehoods being spread by witchdoctors, “people with albinism are human beings and we need to treat them and regard them as human beings first and foremost.”
Tanzania has a high rate of albinism, with one study showing as many as 1 in 1,400 people suffer from the disability, which can cause nearsightedness and cancer from sun exposure, along with social stigmas.

“You may not have a relative or a friend or a neighbor who has albinism but you don’t know if you are carrying the gene,” Ntetema said. In Tanzania, she said 1 in 19 run the risk of having a child with albinism.

If a classmate, relative or neighbor has albinism, don’t rely on witchdoctors for the facts. They profit handsomely from their grisly trade. Instead, learn from persons with albinism themselves who are keenly aware of their needs and challenges.

Once young Africans “understand what albinism is, they will never ever discriminate against people with albinism” and they will be the first people to fight for their rights and wellbeing, Ntetema said.

“If they can go and educate other students, peers and even younger generations about albinism, that would be the best thing that they can do,” she said.

By acting like a good journalist and exposing the myths behind discrimination, young Africans can create a brighter future where everyone is treated the same. “If you know what you’re doing is right, don’t be afraid,” Ntetema said.