Last month, Rwandan NGO Hand in Hand for Development (HIHD) distributed Little Sun lamps to 144 school children living with albinism, economic difficulties and no access to electricity.
Albinism appears in all racial and ethnic groups throughout the world. In Africa, it is estimated that 1 in every 5,000 to 15,000 people have albinism and in some populations, it’s as common as 1 in 1,000. It is an inherited, genetic condition that reduces the production of melanin pigment in skin, hair, and eyes, leading people to suffer from visual impairments in varying degrees and a high risk of developing skin cancer. People with albinism need special protection from the sun (lotion, sunscreen, and clothes), as their skin is exceptionally sensitive to direct sunlight. In order to prevent health issues, the condition forces people with albinism to spend most of their time indoors. In off-grid communities, those with albinism are especially affected by the lack of electricity, without clean light to study or play with, they spend most of their time in dark rooms using harmful kerosene lamps or candles. According to a survey by HIHD, 100% of families in the distribution area who have children with albinism cannot afford connection to the electrical grid and about half are using kerosene or candles. Patient Niyitegeka, the national coordinator of HIHD, shares why a clean and portable solar lamp is the perfect tool for children to use and enjoy their time at home:
“The people living with albinism disabilities that we work with in general come from extremely poor families, whereby for them to get money to afford kerosene or candles to help these kids during school age is difficult. [The lack of light] affects the success of the kids in school and they face other problems in their daily life such as low vision and skin cancer due the lack of body lotion.”
In Rwanda, children who have albinism are often physically or/and verbally bullied, leading them to drop out of school due to mistreatment. There are many misconceptions about albinism in East Africa, people with the condition are often discriminated and even targeted for their body parts because of superstitious beliefs. They are further challenged by a lack of social protection, discrimination, stigma in their communities and sometimes even families, low education and employment levels and poverty. This often generates a cycle of inescapable poverty and without finishing school, they struggle to find work.
The term “person with albinism” is highly preferred to “albino”, which is sometimes used in a derogatory way.
Hand in Hand for Development is a Rwandan NGO aiming to eliminate social inequalities and improve the living standards of vulnerable people in rural areas of Rwanda. Patient Niyitegeka believes the clean light source will solve many issues the children with albinism are facing:
“In my opinion the lamps will contribute in three ways: Economically, the money spent buying candles or kerosenes will be redirected into other activities and generate income for the family. Socially, the kids living with albinism will be appreciated more in the family, because the solar lamp will help all the family members. Concerning health, the illness caused by using kerosene and inhaling smoke from candles will end.”
He also believes that the lamps will increase the children’s school performance, explaining that this will be monitored throughout the year. At the end of the trimester, they will compare results from the exams with previous grades children received before they had a Little Sun lamp. In previously monitored projects, we saw a significant increase in school results. For the Solar Schools Program in Rwanda for example, the success rate in exams went up from 70 to 80%.
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Photo Credits: Jean Bizimana
References: Action on Albinism, Albinism Society of Rwanda, NYDG Foundation