Upendo’s fight for her education: Overcoming oppression and handicaps
Upendo came into our lives about two years ago, when one of my coordinators told me about an albino girl who lived with her family in a small boma about 3 hours from the center. Being albino is extremely dangerous here. There is a belief among witch doctors that the body parts of people with albinism are especially potent in rituals, leading to many killings. You can read more about what life is like for albinos in this United Nations article.
Her family kept her safe the best way they could. At 11 years old, Upendo had been in hiding her entire life. She had never been more then 10 feet from her boma, and was unable to attend school with her brothers and sisters. Upendo and her family were so happy to have the opportunity to join MGRC where she would be able to safely attend school and live without constant fear for the first time in her life.
I enrolled her into a special program designed for older girls who had never attended school. The program had previously been successful, so it was strange when Upendo’s dedication did not show results. One of our tutors at the center said she may be having trouble seeing the numbers on the board, so we took her to the eye doctor. Many of our girls have needed glasses, so we were surprised when the eye doctor said there was a bigger issue and sent us to a specialist in Moshi. After two eight hour round trip visits to the specialist, we discovered Upendo was legally blind! We were completely floored to find out this because she masked it so well, never complaining or needing assistance.
We were able to get some special equipment to help her with her school work and her day-to-day life. She reads using a small dome magnifier she holds up to the pages so she can scan the words one-by-one. She also has a special pair of glasses and transition lens to protect her eyes from the bright sun.
After having been here about two years, you would never be able to tell Upendo was ever behind. She is caught up in school and is one of the hardest working students. It has been fun seeing Upendo’s true personality come out as she conquered her fear and overcame her challenges. Now she is a very quiet and reserved girl… who everyone knows not to cross. She will always stand up for herself and her beliefs, she is a natural leader. I have no doubt that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.