Joseph Madzimure Senior Reporter
There is need to increase awareness campaigns to break stigma and discrimination against people living with albinism, First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, who is the patron of Angel of Hope Foundation, said yesterday.
She was speaking during an interface with children with albinism and their parents at Girls High School in Harare.
The children were drawn from Harare and Chitungwiza and the interface was the first of its kind.
There was fun and jubilation as the First Lady joined the children on the dance floor for a Jerusalema dance challenge.
She cushioned them by providing food hampers and sun screen lotion.
As someone with a passion for the welfare of children, women and the elderly, the First Lady pledged to assist children with albinism.
People with albinism are associated with a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes and are often discriminated and secluded from equal participation.
Amai Mnangagwa is the country’s Health and Child Care ambassador.
She has a passion for the vulnerable groups in society. The First Lady has thus far left footprints in all the country’s ten provinces, where she constantly visits, spend time with marginalised people, listening to them and addressing their needs and concerns.
As the Mother of the Nation, she reaches out to marginalised persons of all gender affiliations in both rural and urban areas.
Her work upholds the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2030.
As the Ministry of Health and Child Care ambassador the First Lady is also known for actively engaging the youth on sexual health matters.
She has been facilitating free medical specialist services to marginalised communities and providing cancer screening through her mobile screening programmes as well as donating medical supplies and equipment.
Amai Mnangagwa said that her engagement with children living with albinism sought to bring attention to understanding albinism and fight discrimination and stigma.
“In Zimbabwe, we stand in unity with persons living with albinism, which is why today, on our commemoration of the International Albinism Awareness Day, the celebrations of which we postponed to today due to the then prevailing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions,” she said.
Advocating good health and upholding human rights are among flagship programmes under the Angel of Hope Foundation, which it is advancing to complement Government programmes by supporting the most vulnerable persons in society, through the provision of access to healthcare, social services, education and economic empowerment initiatives, with a particular focus on older persons, women, youths and children, including children living with disabilities.
“If we reflect on the myths surrounding albinism, we see that in some African communities, there is a belief that riches come with some form of magic, which people can get through performing rituals that include the abuse of persons with albinism. I say no! To such harmful practices.
“I therefore call upon all of us to stand upon the principle of living in harmony with persons with albinism, a spirit which enables us to, ‘love, protect and support persons with albinism, including our children with albinism’ who are indeed ‘made to shine’.
“I am proud to say that in Zimbabwe, the historical traditional family practice of slaying children with albinism at birth has since been stopped, but, I am saddened by the fact that some husbands still divorce their wives on the grounds that they have given birth to a child or children with albinism.
“Yet, to have albinism, does not mean that one is not a human being. Albinism or no albinism, we are all human beings, we are all the same, made in the image of God, but it is just the skin, hair or eye colour of one another, that may be different,” said Amai Mnangagwa.
The First lady chronicled that albinism occurs when a person has inherited two mutated (altered) genes, one from the father and another from the mother when they join at fertilisation. Such an occurrence results in little or no production of the pigment melanin, which determines the colour of the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism is therefore, a result of lack of the melanin pigmentation.
She said the absence of the melanin pigmentation may cause persons living with albinism to struggle with eyesight, or to have wounds and or skin cancer.
“I am aware that there is a lot of stigma that surrounds albinism in Zimbabwe. Let us all make efforts to ensure that our children do not drop out of school. Let us support our children with albinism so that just like other children, they can develop to their full potential,” she added.
Amid the continued gaps in understanding albinism, the First Lady urged the education sector to be more responsive and sensitive to children with albinism.
“Our teachers in all schools should understand disability and offer the right support to children with albinism. For example, children with albinism should not be forced to sit at the back of the classroom, because they may struggle to see what is written on the board. I say no! To such marginalisation,’’ she said.
The Angel of Hope Foundation, she said complements Government efforts towards fulfilling, promoting, protecting and respecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including those of children with albinism.
Further, she noted that the department of disability affairs is finalising the process of making a disability policy for Zimbabwe as well as repealing the outdated disabled persons act (1992) as the nation is looking forward to having a disability policy and a new disability act soon.
“I call upon all of us to raise awareness across the nation, in relation to the ills of the discrimination and abuse of persons with disabilities, including children living with albinism, which may occur in families, communities, educational institutions and across all sectors, to the detriment of the health and well-being of children with albinism and their parents,” he said.
The Mother of the Nation urged organisations that work with persons with albinism, such as the Albino Charity Organisation of Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwe Albino Association to continue partnering with parents of children living with albinism and other stakeholders in carrying out the “good work, that enhances the health and well-being of our children”.
Amai Mnangagwa said her foundation works closely with children with albinism, so that they can achieve their destiny.
“To our children with albinism I say, ‘you lie at the heart of the work of The Angel of Hope Foundation’. You are ‘made to shine’ and indeed the sky is the limit for all of you. You can and you will succeed in all that God has destined you to do,” she said.
Speaking at the same occasion — Senator Joshua Malinga — Special Advisor on Disabilities in the Office of the President and Cabinet said disability does not mean inability.
“People with disability are human beings with rights. I am impressed by your approach First Lady to liberate us people who are disabled,” he said.
The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Professor Paul Mavhima, who was represented by the Director on Disabilities Dr Christine Peta, commended the First Lady for complementing Government efforts in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Chairperson of the National Disability Board in the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, Mercy Maunganidze commended the gesture by the First Lady.
Through her foundation, she handed over sun screen lotion to over 200 children in attendance and food hampers to cushion them from Covid-19-induced lockdown measures.
Senators Rejoice Timire and Watson Khupe attended the occasion.