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This article was published 15/3/2010 (3909 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg businessman is trying to save fellow albinos in Africa from superstition and slaughter.
"It strikes me very personally," said Paul Ash on Monday. Ash's brother, Peter, in Surrey. B.C., founded a registered charity to help Tanzanians with albinism who've been shunned and even murdered for their lack of skin pigment.
On Saturday, Under the Same Sun is holding a fundraising event in Winnipeg.
"If I was born in Tanzania, my life would be at risk," said Ash. "I'd be afraid someone would come in the middle of night and chop off my arm or legs."
There have been 55 documented murders of Tanzanian albinos in the past two years -- most often women and children, said Ash.
The superstitious believe albinos are ghosts who administer curses, and ghouls have harvested their body parts as ingredients for good-luck charms. Witch doctors have exploited those beliefs, charging big bucks to the rich and powerful for the albino suffering, said Ash.
In 2008, the United Nations issued a statement saying there had been 173 arrests -- including five police officers -- but the cases weren't getting to court. The UN demanded the suspects be prosecuted and killers be brought to justice.
So far, there have only been two prosecutions, resulting in the convictions of a just handful of perpetrators, said Ash. The stigma of albinism is partly the reason the cases aren't getting to court, said Ash, who is leaving for Tanzania on April 14. And the country is a hot spot for the genetic disorder, he said.
"Albinism is a lot more prevalent there, with about one in 30,000 here and one in 3,000 there," Ash said.
"The theory is that the genetic disorder started there and there is some research that indicates that," he said. "Because of the stigma and persecution of albinos, there is also more intermarriage."
An albino marrying an albino guarantees any child they might have would be albino, said Ash, whose brother Peter married a non-albino and has a non-albino child.
"As long as one partner does not have the defective gene, then the healthy gene is dominant."
His brother started Under the Same Sun to raise awareness in Tanzania and tell people the truth about albinism. They've set up an office in Dar es Salaam with a staff of 16 -- mostly albino employees -- doing media relations and public education, said Ash.
"We're fighting for their hearts and minds and to put to bed a lot of myths." They've produced brochures and are making a feature-length documentary in English and Swahili to distribute in churches, mosques, schools and to any group that will screen it. They're sponsoring the education of albino children and young adults in the hope that the leaders of tomorrow will be more enlightened.
"We want to work hard to help young people with albinism succeed. Ultimately they become the leaders in society."
Southlands Community Church is hosting a '50s dance fundraiser for the charity Saturday. Today is the last day to buy tickets. Call 946-9160 for information.
What is albinism?
Albinism is a rare, genetically inherited disorder
It affects people of all races and genders
It results in a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes
In nearly all cases a significant visual impairment is also involved, with most being legally blind
Albinos have very little natural protection from the sun's rays and are more susceptible to skin cancer
-- National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.