An official website of the United States government

Believe and Strive: Leading the Way for People with Albinism
September 15, 2015

“A good leader is not selfish and goes for a common goal.”

Joel Tchombosi said he realized this while studying at Wagner College in New York as a 2015 YALI Mandela Washington Fellow. Already a leader in his community in southern Angola, Tchombosi, 33, started a small group for people with albinism. The group works with parents so they will keep their albino children in school.

Being an albino can be dangerous in parts of Africa, Tchombosi said. Because of traditional beliefs, he said, children with albinism have been hunted for their body parts, which are believed to transmit magical powers.

Close-up of Joel Tchombosi
Joel Tchombosi. Credit: State Dept.


In one way, Tchombosi has been lucky. His parents, who did not have formal educations, wanted him to go to school. Once he was in school, relatives urged him to quit and get a job. But his mother and father kept him there.

School posed some challenges. Because albinism often means poor eyesight, Tchombosi had to sit in the front of the classroom and strain to read what teachers wrote on the blackboard. He endured being bullied by classmates because of his skin color. He called their actions a result of ignorance. “It’s not easy living in my skin,” he said.

His persistence paid off. When he graduated from Mandume ya Ndemufayo University in Namibe province, he had three job offers. He now teaches English at a school in Namibe.

Tchombosi used his fellowship to learn how other groups work with people with disabilities. He visited the nonprofit Global Medical Relief Fund that brings children to the United States from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia for treatments, surgeries and prosthetic limb and eye fittings. He spent time at another area nonprofit that provides people with different abilities opportunities to make their own money by making and selling crafts. He saw that people with disabilities don’t have to rely on outside sources of income.

Tchombosi plans to use the leadership skills he learned to develop a strategy to do even more for albinos in Angola. Having learned how to write a grant proposal, he hopes to eventually apply for funding to pay for strong sunscreen for albinos, who are extremely sensitive to sunlight. “Hundreds of Africans are dying from skin cancer because they don’t have sunscreen,” he said.

In the book “The Essence of a Dream 2015,” published by Wagner College, Tchombosi writes: “Believe and strive — you rise higher and higher. Faith pays off as sunshine.”