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“Some People Move Away As I Sit Close To Them”: Growing Up With Albinism in Gambia

Gibairu Janneh

A barrier breaker, Gibairu Janneh, a resilient and driven albino is no stranger to defying the odds. However, he has suffered a fair share of discrimination trying to integrate into society. To some, Gibairu was a rare breed born with curses, and the less they associated with him, the better.

“I vividly remember being bullied by peers to the point I will avoid participating in the moonlight children’s hide and seek game, skipping school, and sometimes isolating myself to cry and wonder why all the discrimination and exclusion.”

In town, he is often met with cold stares from people who sometimes whisper words like “Puneh” or “Toubab”, meaning white. “Some move away as I sit close to them and others spit on the ground for fear that they too will have a child with albinism,” he details.

Young Gibairu Janneh

Determined, Janneh strived for education attending primary school in Kinteh Kunda Jannehyaa Primary school, going to Nusrat Senior Secondary School, and attending the University of The Gambia to be a Chevening Scholar. But the humiliation of walking to the front of the class to see what his teacher was writing was worsened by constant ridicule from his classmates.

“I went through the rigor of schooling copying notes from colleagues as low vision prevented me from reading clearly from the blackboard, no magnifier to support my reading textbooks, and school computers have no zoom software.”

Janneh has pale skin and noticeable patches of dark spots from years of exposure to the sun. He is among the Gambians who have albinism, a recessive condition that drastically reduces the amount of melanin in the skin and can lead to problems like loss of vision and skin cancer.

Now serving as the president for the Association of Gambian Albinos, Janneh continues to fight against discrimination people with albinism face and the need to provide basic necessities to albinos in The Gambia, most especially in education and in the workplace.

Gibairu with some members of the Association of Gambian Albinos

“With perseverance, dedication, commitment, and hard work, I weathered the storm, stayed focused on the prize. Despite so many trials and tribulations, I am still standing strong, shining my light as I know I am made to shine.”

This year’s International Albinism Awareness Day (June 13) celebrated the achievements of those who have albinism globally with the theme “Made to Shine”. Serving as a reminder that people with albinism continue to defy odds, face challenges and injustice with resilience.

Albinism in the Gambia

Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by a lack of melanin pigmentation in skin, hair, and eyes. Those affected are vulnerable to sun exposure, increasing the chances of skin cancer and severe visual impairment.

People with albinism have been largely isolated from one another to get the resources to help them battle the unforgiving sun and a world that thinks of them as disposable. But in recent years, they have forged connections using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter turning a societal stigma into societal bonds.

Abdul-Rahim King, Chairperson of Albinism Society of The Gambia

In The Gambia, people with albinism often face life-threatening discrimination due to lack of health care, lack of employment, and social exclusion. According to the Gambia Association of Gambian Albinos, created in October 2012 to help raise awareness campaigns to break down the myths and misbeliefs surrounding persons with albinism, primary concerns for people with albinism in The Gambia are poverty and lack of sun protection.

In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that called for the prevention of discrimination against individuals with albinism. The UN General Assembly proclaimed June 13th to be International Albinism Awareness Day on December 18th, 2014, with it being observed for the first time in 2015.

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