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RWANDA: Rescued albinos

Mazimpaka, left posing with Jean Paul Samputu, their mentor after a church performance

Rejected by father, these boys found voice in music

It’s one thing to be born. It’s quite another to be born different. Grace Uwingabiye discovered this in 1993 when she produced her first child – an albino.  The following year, another one came; also an albino.

The first one was named Fidelle Mbekeye and the second Patric Mazimpaka.

At a time when every mother should be at their proudest, Uwingabiye was in tears as her community rejected her and her children.

She says she personally did not mind what kind of children God had blessed her with. But their father, Paul Kalinda, was burdened. Uwingabiye says he had one constant question for her: “Where are these children coming from?” The Father did not want anything to do with them.

Then one day the father returned home with what he called a “great idea”.  He told his wife that the two children “had commercial value”. They had to be sold. But his wife refused to cooperate.

Among people who persecute people with albinism, there is a belief that certain body parts of albinos possess magical powers. Such superstition is present; especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, and has been promoted and exploited by witch doctors and others who claim to use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions (muti) with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user.

Mbekeye says much later, their mother told them of their father’s suggestion to sell them. By this time, the boys were grown up and their father died a few years later. Mbekeye says his death possibly was linked to the frustrations of having albino children.

“We think he could not handle that. He was the butt of jokes in the whole society. It drove him to his grave,” says Mbekeye who is now a 24-year old teenager.

The children stayed with their mother.

But the society rejection continued. Even their relatives rejected them. When they went to school, the other children rejected them. They were different. They were Albinos. They could not fit anywhere. So, because of this rejection, they did not go far with their education.

The family turned to God and the children started singing in the local church. Many people liked their singing and they were soon being invited to sing in other churches. People gave them money every time they performed and they used it to support themselves; mainly to buy food.

Then one day, while singing in church, Jean Paul Samputu; a Kora award winner in traditional music, saw them performing and told them they were talented.

“He took us to his studio and we started recording songs,” says Mbekeye. They recorded an album titled `Turi Kumwe’ (We are Together), which is loaded with nine gospel songs.

“Our songs talk about our difficult past. They talk about our being born different and how we suffered. But more important, they talk about forgiveness for we have managed to forgive, from deep within our hearts, those who despised us because we are albinos, and those who abused us when were young.”

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