SPOTLIGHT ON RUTH NEENWI
I’m the first born of my parents and the only albino among four (4) siblings. I didn’t realize that I had an entirely different complexion from the rest of the family members until I was about nine (9) years old but it didn’t bother me then because even though I was the only one in the family with the condition, my parents NEVER gave me a reason to complain. I got as much care and attention as my younger siblings. As a matter of fact, the entire family was loving, protective and very supportive. Dad was (and still is) particularly proud to have me as he would always say “I have a waabeke (white woman) for a daughter” (Smiles**).
I didn’t have issues growing up with the other kids in the neighbourhood and at primary school. I mean based on the fact that we were still very young and naïve, we had no idea what it meant to be with or without melanin. I started to experience the challenges associated with living with albinism during my teenage (secondary school) days. It was no fun at all. Instead of calling me by my name, some of my classmates and fellow students would rather call me by very annoying names. In the classroom, I was mocked and made an object of caricature. Some of them practically avoided me like one would do a plague. This really had an adverse effect on my self esteem as well as my social life. I resorted to keeping to myself. Apart from academic work, I refused to participate in any other school activity. I refused to join the school choir even though I could sing. I remember vividly that all through college, there was never a time I voluntarily took part in any intra/inter schools competitions. My teachers always had to do a lot of persuading. For the same reason, I rejected the school’s offer to become the senior prefect (a well deserved post). At some point, I started contemplating quitting school. It was that bad! But one thing kept me going; the support of my family.
It was an entirely different experience for me at the University. Here, even though the teasing and name calling was still there, they meant absolutely nothing to me because at this stage I had “outgrown” the stigma. More so, studying was stress-free because I do not have ocular albinism.
It is saddening and shameful to know that up to this day and time (despite our level of civilization), there are still “educated” people who do not believe that I am my parents’ biological offspring; there are still people who tease me with stupid questions such as “can you see me?”, and “What’s the colour of the hair on your privates?”; there are still grown up people who would stare at me and then laugh for reasons best known to them; there are still adults who see me on the street and call me names like “Unfortunate European”, “Paul Scoles ” and” Over ripe Pawpaw”.
Yet, the good thing about all of this is that over the years, I discovered that the teasing, abuses and discrimination pushed me to finding my self-confidence. I grew to appreciate the fact that I’m rare and special. I learned to love, accept and embrace my uniqueness because I realized that the way I carry and treat myself determines how others will treat me.
Today, I’m extremely proud of my Albinism, thanks to my amazing family. My cute pair of brown eyes, beautiful blonde hair and flawless pale skin are nature’s priceless gifts which I’ll never trade for anything in the world.
As I hope and look forward to seeing a world where Persons with Albinism (PWAs) can walk the streets without fear of being murdered for ritual purposes; a world where there’s equality of human rights for PWAs.
I want to use this medium to urge parents and relatives of PWAs to acknowledge that children are precious gifts from the Almighty and the colour of their skin, eyes and hair shouldn’t be a criterion to consider when it comes to their welfare and upkeep. Truth is that children with albinism, like every other kids deserve to be loved and cared for. Realize that it isn’t a mistake that you’ve been saddled with the responsibility of their upbringing and that you cannot afford to fail in doing this. That is the reason you must be there to protect and give them support even when the world deserts them. These children are blessed with talents and great potentials and your love is all they need to pull through all of life’s challenges. Do not fail in your duty to nurture them into the great men and women they’ve been destined to become.
To young PWAs, the freckles (brown spots) on my skin were not there from birth. They are a product of ignorance. I was allowed to walk and play in the sun because mom and dad had no idea what damage the sun could do to my skin. Because of the sensitive nature of your skin, you must assume the sun your “biggest enemy”. You must always do your best to protect your skin by wearing less revealing clothes, hats and sunglasses. Use umbrellas and Sunscreen moisturizers with Sun Protection Factor (SPF).
You must educate yourself by making “reading” one of your hobbies.
Lastly, to every PWAs out there, I want to encourage you to believe in yourself as self-belief is the basis for every success. You must dare to be BOLD (Brave, Outspoken, Legendary, and Dauntless). Always bear in mind that you can be anything you want to be, your complexion isn’t a barrier (in mom’s voice).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beautie Dumkabari Neenwi is a Port Harcourt based indigene of Bane in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers state, Nigeria. She’s a proud alumna of the Department of Microbiology, University of Port Harcourt ; the first to earn the “Professor Okpokwasili’s Award for Best Graduating Student in Environmental Microbiology”. She’s a singer/songwriter and also a dancer. She’s an ambitious and very hardworking young woman. She is currently a Laboratory attendant @Creek Medical Consultants (CMC). CMC is an Orthopaedic clinic located in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, Nigeria. She loves to listen to music, read books, travel, see movies, watch soccer and meet people. She dislikes pride and dishonesty. Humility is her watch word.