13 October 2018

Africa: Climb for Albinism: 6 Women Challenge Stereotypes on Africa's Highest Peak

Six African women with albinism, a condition that affects the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes, set out to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this month in a bid to raise the visibility of people living with the condition.

The climbers have all suffered abuse and discrimination, and in one case horrific violence because of their condition. They hope to challenge widely held stereotypes by scaling Africa’s highest peak and titled their summit attempt simply Climb for Albinism.

At 5,895 meters tall, Kilimanjaro is no easy feat for any climber. For those with albinism it is an exceptional challenge. Nodumo Ncomanzi, one of the six climbers, told VOA in an interview following the attempt that she had never faced such conditions.

“I’ve never had to deal with that much sun exposure, and to have my low vision challenged to that extent. So definitely a really difficult environment,” she said.

Daily discrimination

Ncomanzi grew up in Zimbabwe and says the discrimination she faced was not as bad as it is in many other countries, where myth and superstition can often lead to abuse and violence. But she says she was victimized on a daily basis.

“I was very much made fun of at school. I was harassed typically in public in just walking across the street,” she said.

Despite such adversity, Ncomanzi graduated from Yale University in the United States and is now an educational consultant.

Her teammate, Mariamu Staford, overcame perhaps the greatest challenge. She was attacked in her home by a group of men, who hacked off her arms with a machete. She now runs her own textiles business in Tanzania. All of the women volunteered for the climb to try to raise the visibility of people with albinism.

“Especially when women with albinism are discussed in the media for example, the narrative is usually that of victimhood and pity. And we wanted to show that we are more capable of accomplishing and succeeding in challenges that go far beyond the stereotypes that we are usually attached to,” Ncomanzi said.

One summits

Four team members reached camp at 4,700 meters before stopping on medical advice. Two continued the climb: Ncomanzi and Kenyan teammate Jane Waithera, who had to stop 20 meters from the summit because of a knee injury.

In the end, it was Ncomanzi who represented the team at the summit, reaching the peak Oct. 7.

They are remarkable personal achievements for all the climbers, and perhaps a step forward in the fight to end discrimination and abuse against people with albinism.

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