WARNING, reader discretion advised, this article contains graphic descriptions of violence that some folks might find disturbing.
In November 2015 I traveled to Tanzania to attend a conference for albinism activists. After the conference ended I accompanied the senior leadership of Under The Same Sun, (UTSS) to Mwanza District in Northern Tanzania.
Tuesday afternoon we visited the Lakeview School. Upon completing the tour we returned to the administrative building. A woman by the name of Esther, whose child had been abducted February 2015 had arrived to be interviewed by Peter Ash (Founder and CEO of Under The Same Sun UTSS) and Vicky Ntetema the Executive Director of the Tanzania UTSS office. Everyone in our group would sit in on the interview.
First of all, it is of the utmost importance to document the attacks as thoroughly as possible so that there is concrete documentation to prosecute the attackers. The interviews are always difficult, just as this one was.
I sat at a conference table listening, taking notes. Peter and Vicky sat on either side of Esther. Esther, a petite, quiet woman began to recount. her story.
On a Sunday in February 2015 while Esther’s husband was outside near the fire, several men entered the house where she and the children were. She was holding 2 year old Yohana Bahati. The attackers tried repeatedly to wrench the baby from her. “It was like a tug of war.” Esther conveyed. Frustrated by her refusal to let go of the child the attackers slashed her face with a machete, causing the skin on her face, to fall. Still she held on to her child. Next the machete was used on her arm. Only after the second injury was she forced to let go of her child. “I was powerless to hold him.” For a time afterward, she was unconscious. When Esther awakened, she held her face up with one hand and the hands of the two remaining children with the other. Together they quickly and quietly fled to neighbors who aided her in getting medical help.
Sorrow filled the room. “What kind of boy was Yohana? Was he happy? Did your other children love him?” were questions Peter asked. “Yes they loved him. They continue to be sad.”
When asked if she knew why her son was taken, Esther replied that she didn’t know. Peter began to explain about albinism. Also affected with albinism, Peter conveyed that he was like Yohana and that albinism occurs throughout the world.
I wasn’t sure that Esther fully understood what Peter was expressing, primarily because he is Caucasian. I pulled up a photo on my phone of me as a child with my family. I pointed out my mother. Esther along with her mother, who had made the trip with her marveled in surprise. I explained that I was Black American and that I too was affected with albinism. There was recognition. They couldn’t believe that I was just like her late son and her daughter.
At the end of the interview Peter conveyed his sadness for her loss, emphasizing that Yohana was a good boy, a loved boy and valued in his family. Lastly he offered a prayer for Esther as well as her other children, whom she has not seen since the night of the attack. Both were removed from the village by authorizes. The daughter, also affected with albinism, was placed at a protectorate center on a remote island. Her son was placed in a government school.
Despite having had several surgeries Esther experiences constant pain from her injuries. Yet these physical reminders pale in comparison to the emotional trauma and grief of the death of her young son and the separation from her two children. I cannot imagine the heartache she must feel at having lost not one but three children.
The sentiment throughout the conference room was one of sadness, honor, compassion and respect. As a mother I cannot imagine not seeing my daughter for 9 months. Like many people, I have read articles about the attacks on PWA in Africa. Yet, bearing witness to Esther’s story cast a harsh reality of the impact violence toward PWA has upon families.
To learn more about the work Under The Same Sun is doing please visit their website.