Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2010 (July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am)

This is Africa


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July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am
By Kelly Allen'11

Kelly Allen'11 and David Wangode 

See if you can follow this thread: Through the website of a Norwegian woman fundraising for the Nazigo Albino Persons Association in Uganda (abbreviated NAALPA in the local language), I connect to NAALPA’s founder, David Wangode. David gives my information to his counterpart, Robert, who is in Kampala (where I am) so that I can go with Robert to meet David in Nazigo. Upon finishing my research on albinism in Uganda, my paper is requested by the Norwegian woman for the Norwegian Albinism Society.

That day in Kampala, Robert meets me with a smile and a welcoming hug. On a taxi ride, he fills me in on NAALPA and albinism.

I realize how I’ve changed through this semester abroad.
I would never attempt to make connections this way in the United States, but for some reason, I trust that these people are who they say they are, and that their intentions are honest. TIA (This is Africa), and more to the point, This Is African Research.

We reach David’s home: Robert, me, and the driver on a single motorcycle. He greets us wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt to protect his melanin-less skin from UV rays. David and Robert are enthused by my initial use of Luganda, and we begin the interview easily, both men being fluent in English.

Inside, there are no doors or windows to speak of, only sheets to keep out the late-day sun. David’s roof is made of tin, his floor of cement, and his living room is sparsely decorated with a calendar and a few posters. My first month in Uganda, I would have looked at this house and pitied its inhabitants. Now I see a modest but perfectly acceptable family home, and I feel no patronizing sense of pity for its owner. The lack of a tile roof or glass windows no longer signifies helpless poverty, but merely that the weather here does not necessitate them, and this family has bigger priorities.

David tells me about being an albino in Uganda—about how his mother was given an ultimatum by her husband: “If you want this marriage, you will kill this child.” David’s mother refused, choosing to keep her albino child, a decision many women in her situation don’t have the courage to do.

David went on to tell me how he founded NAALPA to help organize and give voice to this “special race.” He also told me about its limitations. The government has deemed his a “noble cause” but has shrugged off any responsibility, declaring that there isn’t room in the budget. People with albinism are estimated to number around 1 in 5,000 East Africans (versus 1 in 20,000 Europeans), according to the Albinism Foundation of East Africa.

The capstone of my semester in Uganda culminated in a research paper, detailing the problems faced by people with albinism in East Africa.

What began as an interest in how albinism affects identity in Africa turned into a startling discovery of the vulnerability of people affected by it, who represent a category as yet undefined by regional human rights documents. Very little is known about albinism in East Africa because the people are entirely ostracized.

My final paper reveals serious loopholes and incongruences in human rights and disability laws and definitions, and I wrote it with information that had never been published. This experience helped me understand the potential of primary research as a powerful form of advocacy.

Kelly Allen is an international relations major and African studies and philosophy double minor from Louisville, Ky. Her experiences growing up in the South, traveling to Africa, and participating in Beloit’s Black Students United are leading her to pursue Pan-African studies and race relations after graduation.

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