Friday, 9 June 2017
Albino children whose limbs were hacked off by witch doctors get new body parts
Emmanuel Rutema, one of four Tanzanian children with albinism visiting the United States to get prosthetic limbs to replace those hacked off in brutal superstition-driven attacks in their East African homeland is excited to test out his new arm. On Tuesday three of them got the new limbs at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia Rutema, the oldest at 15, speaks with difficulty. His attackers chopped off one arm and the fingers of the other hand and tried to pull out his tongue and teeth. Also getting prosthetics were Baraka Lusambo, 7, and Mwigulu Magesa, 14, each of whom lost parts of their arms in attacks.
People with albinism live in danger in Tanzania where their body parts are used in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe they are ghosts and bad luck. The Tanzanian children are getting treatment in the United States with support from the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), a New York-based charity that hosts children from around the world who have been injured in conflict or disaster. Elissa Montanti, founder of GMRF, called the children from Tanzania “gentle souls.”
“When they come here, they have lost so much. They have lost part of their youth and part of their dignity,” Montanti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the Philadelphia hospital.
“We put them back together. When they go back, they have a stronger sense of empowerment. I see such a difference.”
For these children, this is the second trip to the United States for prosthetics and they leave next week.
They first came two years ago and they have returned for larger limbs because they have grown. They could return again for larger equipment. Their new arms are attached with shoulder harnesses, and the elbows and fingers are controlled with cables. Within minutes, Lusambo, the youngest, was clowning around, using his new hand to erect a tower of plastic building blocks and chomping on a candy lollipop. Magesa was more serious and stood stiffly as the prosthetist tugged at his harness straps and tightened its buckles. Asked what he would be doing at home in Tanzania with his new arm, he said: “Washing clothes.”
The children attend boarding school and live in so-called safe houses in Tanzania. They rarely go out in public because it frightens them and could put them in danger, said Ester Rwela, a social worker with the charity Under the Same Sun who came with them to the United States. United Nations officials estimate at least 75 albinos were killed in the east African nation between 2000 and 2015 but fear the number of reported attacks represent just a fraction of the total as most are secretive rituals in rural areas.