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Biography of Al- Shymaa KWAY-GEER

Tanzania > Politics : Al- Shymaa KWAY-GEER

Al- Shymaa KWAY-GEER Al- Shymaa KWAY-GEER Al- Shymaa KWAY-GEER
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Biography :

Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer became Tanzania's first Albino Member of parliament, last year. She has campaigned against the targeting of the minorities and has adopted several Albino children.

As outrage over the killings and maiming of Albinos grew, President Jakaya Kikwete appointed an Albino woman, Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, to parliament in 2008. Albinism, a genetic disorder affecting around one in 3,000 people in Tanzania that causes a loss of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.

With their sunburned skin, yellowing hair and pale blue eyes, African Albinos stand out from the crowd. Simply being out in the equatorial sun is painful and can be deadly: Many Albinos in Africa will die of skin cancer before their 30th birthday.

However, in Tanzania (and neighboring Burundi) they might be lucky to reach that age because of a gruesome trade in Albino body parts that has emerged in recent years.  Scores of Albinos have been murdered so that witchdoctors can use their skin and body parts to make potions, that they claim bring wealth and good fortune.

There is no word for Albino in the local Kiswahili language, instead they are called "zeru," which means ghost. So was told a reporter from the BBC. Al-Shymaa was surprised at being nominated by the president, however her determination to fight the discrimination that she and other people with Albinism suffer is her driving force.

Twenty people with albinism have been murdered in the past year in Tanzania, where there is a widespread belief that the condition is the result of a curse.

Nevertheless, a crackdown on the witch doctors who encourage the killing of people with Albinism was recently announced - and as part of this, 48-year-old Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer was appointed. "It was something very great for me - I didn't expect it," Ms Kway-Geer told BBC World Service's Outlook programme. "I think the president chose me because he believed in me - I'm a very hard-working woman. "The president chose me at this time, when Albinos are being killed and abused."

Instead of having dark skin and black hair, people with Albinism are blond with pale skin, because their skin lacks pigment.

As well as the belief that Albinism is a curse, witch doctors in the country use body parts from Albinos in magic potions, they claim will bring people good luck or fortune. Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, says, we must find out how many Albinos there are all over Tanzania, so that they get education and health.  

Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer was herself victimised when young, "When I was at primary school, people used to laugh at me, tease me - some didn't even like to touch me, saying that if they touched me they would get this colour," she said. "People used to abuse me on the road when I took the buses to school. They would run after me - crowds of kids following me - shouting 'zeru, zeru'." "Zeru" is a Swahili word for Albino.

Tanzania's Albino society says that traditionally, this is a word for ghost-like creatures and is derogatory. Since the beginning of 2000, the word has been banned. Ms Kway-Geer says she hopes to educate people about Albinism to end the discrimination, and called for a census of albino people. "First we must find out how many Albinos there are all over Tanzania, so that they get education and health," she said.

Albinos are at particular risk from skin cancer and often suffer from poor eyesight. "Many albinos are poor, and therefore they need help from the government,"said Mrs Kway-Geer

Last update : 05/29/2011

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