By Tomisin Alfonja
Albinism is a genetic disorder that causes the skin, eye, and hair to have no color. In other words, it refers to the condition an individual suffers from if he lacks melanin which gives us our color. Signs of albinism are present at birth with these kids born to parents carry a dominant or recessive trait of albinism.
Albinos usually have issues with their sight. They could be crossed-eyed, sensitive to light, with involuntary rapid eye movements, even blindness.
How to Detect Albinism
Albinism is detected via genetic testing. This helps to identify defective genes with traits of albinism. Albinism cannot be cured. Only preventive measures can be taken against it or the adverse effects it could have on a child.
Albinism’s Effect on Social Interaction
In African countries, albinos face a lot of challenges. They face a lot of discrimination and are counted unworthy of leading a normal life. Completing their education, learning a skill, or getting married are activities are considered beyond their reach.
Reports about Tanzania has shown that albinos are kidnapped and killed, then torn into pieces with their body parts sold off in bits. This is gruesome and the height of cruelty. These body parts are mostly sold to witch doctors that make spiritual portions for interested individuals.
In Zimbabwe, it is believed that having sex with an albino can cure a person of HIV. This, of course, is untrue but some men take advantage of this to rape female albinos and further spread the deadly HIV virus.
In light of these events, albinos feel insecure and unsafe. They leave with fear and believe that the future is bleak, if not nonexistent for them.
An Albino that Rose Above His Challenges
Leo Jonah, a 22 year old from London was born with albinism – a genetic condition characterised by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.
As at the time Leo was born, the possibility was 1 in 5 million children.
He was subject to bullying due to his rare genetic condition. He was born to parents with a dark complexion and both of his siblings were born with albinism. His classmates and neighbors taunted him about being neither black nor white. He would always get in a fight to defend himself.
Leo stated that when he was younger he wished he didn’t suffer from this condition as it would have made growing up easier. He suffered cruel taunts till his life turned around the day a modeling agency approached him. Today he is enjoying life as a successful model, gracing the pages of Vogue Russia, and is using his experience to help other people with albinism.
Reflecting on growing up with the condition, Leo said: ‘I think when I was younger, I used to say I wish I didn’t have it because it would’ve made a lot of things easier when I was growing up.
‘I couldn’t just walk to the shop without getting into a fight. Every single day I’d get into a fight,’ he recalled.
It was challenging for Leo’s mother, Faith, and her husband. People talked about them a lot sometimes making derogatory comments that were potentially depressing.
Despite the statistics, Leo’s family hit the headlines in 1997 as his younger sister was the third child born with albinism to the same parents.
He said: ‘We were the first black family on my street, and then top of that, three of us had albinism.’
Leo’s mother, Faith said: ‘My first was born in 1992. Then it was like one in five million, so it was very rare to have a child with albinism. I was told I couldn’t have more – but I did.
‘I was isolated because nobody around me knew what to do, so it was very challenging for us as parents.
‘There are all kind of things that people say that are cruel, but you just have to shrug it off and move on, because if you don’t, you get yourself to a depression,’ Faith said.
How Leo Triumphed
Individuals with albinism easily stand out in a crowd and this was no different for Leo. It sure earned him the kind of attention teenagers sometimes crave but stares can as well be piercing, even embarrassing.
Leo started to rise above these challenges when he was spotted by a modeling agency. Despite the taunts he received, his self esteem and confidence did not diminish. He took pride in being different and this was his selling point.
Leo has modeled and continues to model for London Fashion Week, bringing a distinct difference to the fashion industry. He has featured in Vogue Russia and Hunter Magazines.
Stormzy, Years & Years, Kamille, and The 1975 have featured Leo in their music videos. His condition practically made him a star.
During UK’s most prestigious photography exhibition, Portrait of Britain, a portrait of Leo was showcased.
Leo didn’t make it by blending in but by standing out. Though he stood out as a result of his congenital defect, it has brought him great benefits.
What Leo Does To Help Others
Leo doesn’t enjoy his opportunities alone. He serves as a source of comfort, support, and inspiration to other albinos like him. This is especially true of young ones who are yet to develop the will and build the confidence it takes to stand out with their difference.
One of such kids is Matthew, a 7 year old albino, who is very shy. Matthew faces challenges in school, in the classroom and on the playground; some of his classmates refuse to play with him because they just can’t categorize him.
Like most people with albinism, Matthew suffers from poor eyesight and nystagmus. This is as a result of reduced melanin in the retina.
Leo met with Matthew and now they are jolly good friends. Leo recognizes that Matthew has a need – the need to feel accepted and welcome.
It’s enough that the kid knows he is different, it shouldn’t be rubbed in his face by anyone. Leo, thus, visited Matthew’s school and discussed with his teachers on what could be done to improve the boy’s life at school.
What Leo suggested was a “little bit of accommodation” as stated by MailOnline.
Leo wants all albinos to accept that they are different and embrace that difference. Others can’t just like you if you don’t like and appreciate yourself. It’s not going to go away but you can rejoice in your uniqueness.
Leo rose above all obstacles to his growth and progress as a normal person. He deserved as much as anyone else and he got it.
He as well had the help of well-meaning parents who help him build his self esteem. But most of all was the right mindset he had. One that made him realize that being different isn’t so bad after all. He is really comfortable in his own skin.
It turns out he’s not laughing last but having a better laugh than a whole lot of his mates are.
Are You an Albino or Know Someone else that is?
Are you? You can derive some inspiration from Leo. You can try to reach out to him like Matthew’s parents did. Leo is willing to help you triumph just as he has. I believe you can. Now it’s time for you to believe that you can too.