18 October 2018

Tanzania: Scaling Kili to Fight Stigma Against Albinism

SIX women with albinism who descended Mt Kilimanjaro recently as part of a campaign to champion awareness on the condition and rally for actions to end discrimination and human rights violations against persons with albinism have spoken of their experiences at the end of the expedition.

The climbers surmounted diverse challenges to excel in different fields and are now using their experiences and influence to lead albinism advocacy efforts across the African continent and inspiring others to do the same.

All the six climbers went beyond what they thought was possible, with team member Nodumo Ncomanzi from Z imbabwe reaching the highest point, Uhuru Peak.

While her colleagues withdrew at different time spans after developing high altitude sickness. "I am proud to be a woman with albinism who stood at Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the African continent," she said adding that her teammates were the source of her strength as she would not have summited had she not climbed with them for the first 6 days.

"This is only the beginning of us amplifying our power and that of other persons with albinism around the world," she said in Moshi yesterday.

Ncomanzi, a brand strategist who uses her creative spaces to advocate for a more livable and supported existence for persons with albinism globally.

The six women started their expedition on October 1, 2018. Expedition leader and cofounder of Climb For Albinism, Elia Saikaly said "after careful assessing each climber at Kibo camp, 4,700m above sea level, the leadership determined that only two climbers, Jane Waithera and Nodumo Ncomanzi were fit by high altitude mountain standards to attempt the summit", adding that the decisions were made with each climber's personal safety in mind.

Drawn from Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Z imbabwe and Senegal, the women said the physical and mental strain they endured scaling up the mountain was testimony to their determination to reverse the stereotype heaped on people with albinism, which led society to discriminate against them.

"I am happy to have challenged myself and realized that I am able to conquer anything. I am also thrilled that this experience brought new friends into my life and empowered me with the dignity and power to be who I am," said Mariam Staford, a Tanzanian who advocates against violence on persons with albinism.

According to expedition leader and co-founder of Climb For Albinism, Elia Saikaly, "after careful assessment of each climber at Kibo camp 4,700 metres, the leadership determined that only two climbers, Jane Waithera and Nodumo Ncomanzi were best positioned, strength-wise, by high altitude mountain standards, to attempt the summit, with decisions made with each climber's personal safety in mind and each climber's blessing".

Ms Waithera turned back just 20m from Uhuru Peak due to a knee injury, but was in the great spirits and thrilled to climb beyond 19,000 ft. Nodumo summited at 19,340 ft (5,894m) on behalf of the team on Oct.7, 2018.

"I am proud to be a woman with albinism who stood at Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the African continent," said Nodumo. "My teammates were my source of strength.

I would not have made it to the summit if I had not climbed with them for the first 6 days. This is only the beginning of us amplifying our power and that of other persons with albinism around the world," she remarked.

Ncomanzi is a brand strategist and uses her creative spaces to advocate for a more livable and supported existence for persons with albinism globally.

All the women said the physical and mental strain endured while scaling up the mountain taught them empowering and enduring lessons about themselves and their cause.

"Climbing the mountain made me identify the physical representation of how painful the lives of persons with albinism are," said Regina Mary from South Africa, adding that the struggle to reach the next base-camp reminded her of how hard it can be to keep trying to pursue her dreams as a person with albinism.

Mariam Staford, a resident of Moshi and an advocate against violence on persons with albinism said despite not making it to the summit, she felt empowered, having challenged herself.

"I realized that I am able to conquer anything. I am also thrilled that this experience brought new friends into my life and empowered me with the dignity and power to be who I am", she said.

On her part, Jane Waithera from Kenya, who advocates for and mentors persons with albinism in East Africa said it was one of the greatest moments of her life and proud to be part of making history and promoting a better world for persons with albinism.

"Every step that I took towards the top was a step to zero stigma and discrimination towards persons with albinism," she said. According to Dr Onyinye Edi from Nigeria, said, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was the the toughest assignment she has undertaken so far. "I have never done anything as physically tasking as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

I learned that I am stronger than I think." Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro an extreme altitude mountain, which takes a toll on people who attempt it; a factor which led Mr Saikaly to applaud the courage of the six women.

"The climb was a significant struggle for the entire team, symbolic of the challenges persons with albinism face in their everyday lives. Mount Kilimanjaro threw just about everything at us and in the end, the Climb for Albinism flag was raised on the roof of Africa.

I'm incredibly proud of each team member for undertaking such a tremendous challenge and for standing together for such an important cause," said Mr Saikaly.

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