Schoolgirl wins respect of community

Gugu Precious Ntinga

Gugu Precious Ntinga

Albinism is a condition that makes people look different. Sometimes one is accepted, but one sometimes feels isolated, especially in communities where physical appearance is a talking point.

Sometimes being different is good, but sometimes it is bad. Having an unfamiliar complexion can create nervousness for the affected person, and others - the onlookers.

All this depends on how one is treated by a community.

Whether they compliment you when you do good, make you feel welcome when you interact with them in different ways, including communication, or simply reject you and call you negative names and words, including umlungu, which is isiZulu for a white person, or is'shawa, which is a derogatory term. It is the same as when a person with my condition is called an albino. Worse still, my Indian colleagues used to call me a white cockroach.

In the past, people refused to accept that people with albinism had a right to live among them.

My mother said that before my birth, while she was living in KwaMashu outside Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, she was ignorant about albinism.

But after I was born my mother learnt about albinism the hard way. Initially, she did not know how to break the news to my grandmother about her new granddaughter who looked different.

My granny, who had been away for some time, had not been present at my birth. On her return, she curiously asked if the new arrival was a boy or a girl.

All my mom could say about the bundle of joy hidden inside a blanket was: "See for yourself, mama."

My granny, surprised at the unusually wrapped baby, remarked sharply: "How can you wrap the child up like that? Are you not aware that you can easily suffocate our child?"

My mom was taken by surprise that, instead of being admonished, my granny had unwrapped the blanket covering me in the heat.

When she saw me for the first time, my granny dropped to her knees and prayed.

She said: "God, thank you for giving us this wonderful, unusual gift."

Instead of being dismayed, ashamed or annoyed, my granny was happy.

Relieved, my mom started to love me unconditionally.

But in my community I was treated badly while I was growing up. The other children were the main culprits.

It was as if I were not a normal, black child like they were. They had this negative belief that I was a white child and I was not accepted in their circles.

My mom has taught me not to be bitter towards my tormentors - our tormentors - and to stand my ground always and to avoid and even ignore people, things or situations that could easily hurt me because I weep easily.

Albinism is an inherited condition in which people have little or no pigmentation in their eyes, skin or hair because they have inherited genes that do not produce the usual amount of a pigment called melanin. I am one of those people, but I am proud of myself because I am human too, just like other boys and girls.

I now live in Hammersdale. where I am a grade12 pupil at Gabigabi High School. I am, surprisingly and pleasantly, accepted and loved and I am thriving as a member of a loving community. I am a member of the school choir, but unfortunately I do not participate in sports because of my poor eyesight.

l The author, Gugu Precious Ntinga, is 17. She came second in the national schools Essay on Albinism competition, which is sponsored and organised by Sowetan, the Albinism Society of South Africa, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the national health department. This is an edited version of her essay.