Virginia Chimodzi is a teacher with albinism. She has overcome some of the obstacles faced by many people with albinism in Malawi, and is now a teacher working to improve the lives of children with albinism.
There are three children in our family, all girls, two of whom have albinism (my young sister and myself). I heard that on my mother’s side of the family they had a brother with albinism. I never met him. He died before I was born.
Some people do not treat us as human beings. Even if we talk to them, they still discriminate. They think we can achieve nothing in this world. People with albinism are subject to attacks and killings. Wherever we go, we move in fear. I have even lost trust in people and friends because in most cases it is close friends who plan the attacks.
“I had the knowledge, but because I was unable to see, I would just stay quiet”
Access to education is another challenge we face. It is funny now when I realise how things were at school. At first, I thought everyone had the same eyesight as I did. Whenever the teacher would write something on the chalkboard and I could not see what it was, I thought everybody was experiencing the same. It made me feel like a total failure. I repeated a year at school because the teacher thought that I knew nothing. In fact, I had the knowledge, but because I was unable to see, I would just stay quiet and not write anything.
My father was a teacher. When I was at school he explained to my teachers what challenges I faced (such as poor eyesight) and they were able to help me. Because of my shortsightedness, they would give me the notebooks in which they wrote the questions, instead of forcing me to try and read the blackboard. Other children claimed I passed because the notebook had answers, saying that the teachers only give me answers instead of questions.
One day, a certain teacher put an end to this gossip, by letting all the children answer from the same notebook. Teachers were also sensitive and gave me extra time when writing exams, as I needed extra time to read.
“If we lose our lives, we ruin the country’s development”
I am a teacher now. I became a teacher mostly to assist my friends and other people with albinism, whose experiences I share and understand. I now meet with other teachers and train them on how to work with children with albinism in their schools.
I enjoy acting as a role model to young people. I have come across children with albinism, and I help them by encouraging them to work hard.
I also educate them about who they are, and how to protect themselves. For example, to protect themselves from the sun, they should always wear long sleeves. If they don’t, they should move around with an umbrella. I also advise them to go the clinic for sunscreen lotion, and I share sunscreen I have with them. Most of them are from poor, rural villages.
People can support people with albinism by spreading information on protection, inclusive education, avoiding discrimination. If we lose our lives, we ruin the country’s development. When we are educated, we contribute to the development of Malawi. Killing us is killing the development of Malawi.