February 3, 2005
Gladys and Vanessa
Gladys and Vanessa are sisters. Sometimes when they come to the sessions in Ndirande, their mother has them dressed in matching dresses. They look adorable, but at first glance you would never think that they are related. Gladys, who is older, has snow white hair and pale skin, her sister looks like a typical Malawian with beautiful chocolate skin and short black hair. Gladys is what they call an albino. Her skin lacks the protective pigment. Because of genetic flukes such as this, there are several albinos in Ndirande.
They are not handicapped in the true sense of the word, but because they are so different in appearance, they are often discriminated against and humiliated.
They also have special health problems. Their eyes, which lack protective pigmentation are very sensitive to the bright African sunshine, and thus they often have vision problems. At Christmas we made sure that they all got hats too, because their pale skin burns easily. I give out tubes of sunscreen on a regular basis, and last week, when Wicka (our nurse) was away, I applied medicated cream to large purple sores on some of the babies’ heads. Because of the overexposure to ultraviolet rays, the albinos skin wrinkles very easily, and some of the young mothers who attend are wreathed with them.
Life is not easy for the albinos here, but when I see Gladys and Vanessa helping each other with the craft projects each week, I realize how important it is to treat everyone like a sister or brother.