What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see an albino in these parts? Queer, deformed, ill or even superstitious. These are the myths that have long lived with us and we’ve never understood why. Albinos across Africa have been discriminated against, counted as outcasts, used for money rituals and even killed out of pure hate. But what it really is that, we do not understand who they are and why they have a different skin colour.
Onome Akinlolu-Majaro almost broke the Nigerian internet when her wedding photos went viral on social media. It must have been that Nigerians got to see an albino in an entirely different light, they got to see beyond her skin and she took the opportunity to set up OAM Foundation with her husband, Akinlolu Majaro.
In this interview with YNaija’s Impact365, Onome opens up about the NGO, it’s journey so far and what the future holds:
Can you please tell us more about OAM Foundation?
Onome Akinlolu Majaro Foundation (OAM Foundation) is founded on the belief that enlightenment added with a little act of love and kindness can change the way people living with albinism are treated. Much of our focus is to stimulate a movement that roots out socio-cultural stereotypes about albinism in Nigeria and the world, and plant the seeds of empowerment for people living with albinism. We are passionately committed to ending the discrimination, against people living with albinism and to promote the wellbeing of persons with albinism. Our campaigns are focused on facts on albinism, on perception change and occasionally campaigns may focus on the conditions of people living with albinism, with focus on their various challenges, plights, abuses, societal exclusion and discrimination that occur as a result of living with the condition in Nigeria. We also want to encourage people living with albinism to step out of their shell, to improve their confidence and to assist in removing social stigma and misconceptions by talking about them.
For those who still do not understand, please shed light on albinism.
Albinism is a genetic condition where people are born without the usual pigment (colour) in their bodies. Their bodies aren’t able to make a normal amount of melanin, the chemical that is responsible for eye, skin, and hair colour resulting in very pale skin, hair, and eyes.
There must have been a peculiar occurrence that inspired you to start the foundation. Please share with us.
After our wedding pictures were posted online, my inbox was flooded with questions and there was a lot of talk concerning my complexion. I had always had the idea to help create awareness on albinism, but after the wedding I was certain I had to start a foundation.
Campaigning against discrimination against albinos is new in Nigeria. What has the reception been like?
When we started we received some good feedback from some persons living with albinism, they were inspired to share their stories which made people realise that discrimination against albinism truly existed, though not as profound as racial discrimination. This inspired us to do more; sharing stories, asking questions like “do you have a friend with albinism”, “can you date an albino”, and “will you employ a person with albinism”.
So far through the knowledge gained from campaigns and stories of victims of discrimination, what do you think is the major factor that fuels abuse and discrimination?
The general reason is unawareness. The traditional myths and superstitions have been passed down through generations to explain and stereotype the existence of albinos. Most people are not adequately aware of the scientific explanations surrounding albinism, thus we aim to enlighten the public. Basically people are scared by what they do not understand and traditional myths aren’t helping.
Can you rate the success of your campaigns so far?
We are very happy with the way our campaigns (#BeyondTheComplexion) have gone so far. Some have been aired on TV, international radio, national newspapers, blogs, and several websites. In general, we would say the campaigns have been quite successful, but there is more to look forward to. We strive to continue to get better and touch more hearts.
Have you faced any challenges and what are they?
Yes, some people don’t like change. They don’t like to hear the truth behind the myths, we once had to plead with a parent to keep their albino child in school but they refused saying it was a waste of resources. We have also been told that we are making a big deal out of what isn’t. Some people are still in denial of the discrimination that exists against albinism.
Do you have plans of taking your work beyond Nigeria to those African countries where there is widespread discrimination against albinos?
Yes, thanks to our online campaign that was supported in other parts of the world, we have been approached by other NGOs in various parts of the world. We have plans to partner with NGOs in other countries. We realise that the stigmatisation against albinism is more severe in some countries and we are willing to help them.
Would you like to share details of upcoming projects/campaigns in 2017?
This year we are focused on empowerment. We are teaming up with businesses to train persons living with albinism. We also plan on celebrating International Albinism Awareness Day; giving out umbrellas, glasses and sunscreens to persons living with albinism. Generally we want a behavioural change towards persons living with albinism; we want people to treat albinos with respect. We always say Kindness changes everything. Look #BeyondTheComplexion