Why Goldalyn Kakuya is an inspiration beyond KCPE exams

Thursday November 30 2017

By JANE WAITHERA

Growing up in Chinga, a small village in Central Kenya, I stood out.

I have albinism, a congenital disorder that leaves your skin with little to no colour, and also affects your eyes, making it difficult to see.

My “whiteness” inspired curiosity and sometimes cruelty.

My classmates would pinch my skin to watch it turn red, while others would try to catch me and cut me to see what colour I bled.

BONES

My teachers did not help ward off abuse. Indeed, they punished me for incomplete assignments.

Instead of inspiring me, school became a place I tried to avoid, preferring to hide in the tea bushes outside and read books the only way I could, with my eyes very close to the page.

Myths about people with albinism persist.

They say, like ghosts, we do not die, we simply disappear.

This made-up nonsense has led to attacks on people with albinism by assailants wielding machetes and hoping to cut off a limb, or possibly an ear.

Our bones, hair and blood supposedly are the secret ingredient to witchcraft potions. People pay thousands of dollars for our body parts.

Attacks in eastern and southern Africa have been on the rise in recent years, though action by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have helped provide a measure of safety.

For all these reasons and more, it is said that many people with albinism are forced to live life “in the shadows.” Many are afraid to leave their homes.

Contrast this cold reality with the news out of Kakamega County this week: the top candidate in the 2017 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education was Goldalyn Kakuya, a 14-year-old girl with albinism.

It is estimated that Ms Kakuya outperformed nearly a million other students her age.

ATTITUDES

“I want to be a neurosurgeon,” she told a national TV audience after being informed of her score, while dozens of her classmates and teachers burst into song and dance behind her.

Ms Kakuya’s story needs to reach the places where people with albinism too often go to hide. It should inspire people who have albinism to pursue, and achieve their dreams.

It would have made a big difference in my life — as a girl hiding under the tea bushes outside school — to learn that there were other girls like me who were able to excel in school.

Ms Kakuya’s achievement should also be eye opening for those who do not have albinism, stimulating them to ask questions and change their attitudes about what people with albinism can accomplish.

Ikponwosa Ero, a United Nations independent expert on human rights and albinism, recently told Al Jazeera that some communities in Africa of people with albinism face “systematic extinction” due to persistent attacks.

But it does not have to be this way. Ms Kakuya’s academic excellence reminds us just how much people with albinism, with proper community support, can achieve.


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