Stop the stigma: An albino’s story

By: Wyclef Kaunda

In 1995 Wyclef Raphael Kaunda was born in Mansa, 950 kilometres north of the Zambian capital city of Lusaka, the third child in a family of four.

He was born with an absence of melanin in his skin, caused by Albinism; a condition which caused his vision to be severely impaired. In 2002 when he was seven, tragedy struck when both his parents were killed in a car accident, leaving their four children orphans. All properties and belongings of the family including their home, were confiscated by people who took advantage of the vulnerable situation of the children. This left the children without a home or guardians.

Wyclef and his siblings became beggars and were rejected by their community. Their widowed elderly grandmother took the children to live with her, despite her own dire poverty. Life was very difficult and often they would go to sleep with an empty stomach and no blankets. Their clothing was tattered, but despite all these hardships, their grandmother managed to send them to school where Wyclef proved to be a bright, hard-working child.

This is Wyclef Kaunda’s grandmother.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith Botha came to his rescue when they found him on the streets asking for help to buy books to support his education. They were moved by his situation and especially by his love of learning. They decided to adopt him and his siblings (and grandmother) and pay for their education. In the year 2005, at the age of 10, Wyclef started attending St. Mary’s Special School in Kawambwa, which is run by the Sisters of the Child Jesus. He studied there from 2005 to 2010 and gained many valuable life skills. St. Mary’s played an important role in shaping his future and he remains forever indebted to his guardians and school staff, especially Sister Agnes Bwalya.

Wyclef worked extra hard academically knowing that the only equalizer in life was education. He excelled in Junior High and the government of Zambia recognized him as the best performing pupil in Grade 9 National Examinations. Wyclef took part in many extracurricular activities during his secondary school years; debating, quiz, jets (Junior Engineering and Technicians’ Scientist), poetry and drama which gave him a broader understanding of the world.

He continued on to perform exceptionally well into Grade 12 levels. He is now a graduate of Mansa College of Education and is currently tutoring students to earn money for his grandmother’s medical bills. Wyclef has many ambitions and a love of learning. He is interested in medicine, creating software and working on website design.

He is grateful for his good fortune and plans to be the voice of the voiceless in society. The help given to him by the Botha family has greatly changed his life and inspired him to help others. He values the support of his best friend Nathan Botha who has been there for him through thick and thin and Sister Bwalya at the Kawambwa School who is so very proud of all he has accomplished.

Wyclef Kaunda is pictured with his friend Perphais.

Wyclef’s albinism has made his life extremely difficult. Wherever he went, he was called terrible names and people would boo him and spit on him. Living with albinism is quite a challenge in Africa for people believe the superstitions that Albinos are spirits of the living dead and Albinism can be caught through close contact. Many of his friends have been murdered due to the promotion of the myth that Albino body parts and blood are a good luck charm capable of generating great wealth.

In the city where superstitious beliefs concerning Albinos are less, Wyclef feels somewhat safer, especially when he is out with his most trusted friends, but every night he lives in fear of attack. When in his home village, the fear is magnified because a lot of people in that area living with Albinism have already been killed, (to supply the body parts black market). Although he never feels totally safe, he is most secure when in his own home with people he trusts most.

Pictured are Patience Mwila (back), Wyclef Kaunda (green bow tie) and Nathan Botha of his adopted family.

In Wyclef’s story “My Voice Must be Heard,” he said he felt “anxious” last year when “we were being poached like wild animals.” He wrote the following:

“Each and every moment I walk in fear because I do not know who will take away my life.

“It is not like I am a fugitive No! But because I am an albino,

Some do not even want to seat next to me,

Eating with me is like they are feeding on vomit,

They do not want to rub shoulders with me, as if a am a curse from God,

But listen to me even as I speak with tears in my eyes,

My tears shall no longer be in a bottle, I am spitting out the bitter truth.

“Let the silence be broken now, we will no longer be silent like a rock cost hit by the waves.

“Segregation is bad; we are humans like you are

God created man in his own image and likeness, of which we all know.

“Why kill albinos for rituals, why discriminate and laugh at us?

“We say we are a Christian nation and our deeds to people living with albinism are destroying the Christian name….

“Love us, care for us and hear our cry.

“To all the parents out there, remember that having an albino child isn’t a curse but a full blessing from God, and to all those who kill albino children please change for better, because God is not a God of discrimination but a God of love to everyone….

“Blessed are those that are close to people living with albinism. Remember we are not ghosts, but normal people just like you.

“My fellows are living in fear because of knowing not about their safety.

“The government seems to be silent or pays a deaf ear over the same issue and the cry of innocent albinos who have been brutally slaughtered because of being albino.

“My voice must be heard we have taken it upon ourselves to fight because the system seems to be busy with its work of governing, forgetting albinos

“Clergy men are busy preaching about prosperity, forgetting preaching on love and care for one another.”