A family should be the first place a child naturally experiences love, unconditional love. But this is not always the case, as my story will prove.
Shunned by my own blood, I have found love and acceptance in a people not my own. My late mother loved and accepted me, but my siblings hated and mistreated me.
My name is Alice Nabwire, and I am an albino. I was born 38 years ago in Kimilili, Bungoma County. I am the last born in a family of four girls and one boy.
My Father died when I was only two. I was left alone with my mother at our farm, since my siblings, who were much older than me, had already left home. When I turned three, mum started falling sick.
One of my sisters, who was by then married, took me in when mum was admitted in Kitale District Hospital.
She and her husband mistreated me, and often left me hungry.
They would also lock me out whenever they went to work, forcing me to stay out in the cold, or in the sun, depending on what the weather was like.
The sun is unfriendly to people like me, and too much exposure can lead to skin cancer. My skin would swell, turn red and start peeling. My lips would also develop welts and start cracking, and since I had no shoes, my feet became jigger-infested.
‘Her skin peels like a snake’s,” my sister’s husband would mock me.
A mother’s love
When my mother was discharged from hospital, she came for me – she was shocked and pained by my condition, but there was nothing she could do about it, apart from nurse me back to health, which she did.
Unfortunately, mum fell sick again and was admitted in hospital once again, but this time round, she left me in the care of another sister in Nairobi. She too did not want me in her house, and mistreated me.
Her animosity towards me increased by the day, and I learnt to stay out of her way, since she was fond of slapping me unprovoked.
My sister’s husband was kinder though, and questioned why she did not take me to school, only for her to point out that my sight was poor, so no school would accept me.
Many times, I went to bed hungry because the pepper she liked to prepare food with stung my lips.
Though she knew this, she did not care. Occasionally, their kind landlady would slip me some food.
Eventually, mum was released from hospital and we went back to Kitale. Unfortunately, my siblings had sold off her shamba to pay the medical bills, so we went to live with a relative from mum’s side of the family.
I was not accepted there either. Once, one of my cousin’s, who was much older than me, deliberately tried to drown me in the river when we went to bathe, but was stopped by older children.
Mum was angry when she learnt what had happened, and she immediately packed our clothes and we left. She rented a house in a nearby market, doing menial jobs for survival.
Mum started falling sick again, and we had to go back to Nairobi, since she could no longer work.
To my relief, one of my sister’s got my mother a small house in Mathare, in the outskirts of Nairobi, and though it was barely habitable, at least it was ours.
When I was around 13 years, and too disturbed by the animosity from my siblings, I asked my mother why they disliked me so much.
It was then that mum revealed to me that I was to be thrown away at birth because albinos were considered a curse where I come from. Mum refused to cooperate, hence the rejection.
By then, mum was not strong enough to work, and for a while, I begged for food to sustain us.
Tired of begging, I persuaded mum to allow me to look for a job. She agreed, but with a strong warning, “Keep God first, never become a prostitute or do anything that is harmful to your health.”
The following day, I joined slum workers in a lorry that usually took them to a coffee plantation in Kiambu, and returned them in the evening. The income was not much, but at least mum and I had food.
After a while, I fell sick, and when I went to hospital, the doctor informed me that the chemicals used to spray the coffee were the cause. He advised me to quit the job – mum and I were back to square one.
A few days later, I learnt that the nearby Redeemed church sometimes gave food to the needy. It is here that I met Benedict Kinyua, who worked at the church, and was an albino like me.
He offered to help me join Thika School for the blind. However, the process required that a family member sign some documents and deliver them personally to Kikuyu Eye Hospital, in Kiambu County.
Mum was bedridden, and could therefore not do it. When I requested one of my sister’s to do it, she turned me away, shattering my hope for an education.
Discouraged, I decided to look for another job instead. Barely 14, I got a job as a housemaid, but walked out due to the mistreatment I went through. My second employer was no better, and refused to pay me a month’s dues when a pair of bed sheets were stolen from the hanging line, so I again left the job.
My third employer, a woman called Cecilia, was very kind to me, and treated me like she would a relative – it was while working for her that I met Mr Kinyua again, who insisted that I needed to learn a skill if I wanted to become independent.
He arranged for me to go to St Lucy’s School for the Blind in Meru, for a knitting course.
Cecilia released me with her blessings and even invited me to spend holidays at her home.
It was while at St Lucy’s School for the blind that mum passed away. By then, she was living in Kitale, where my siblings had bought her a piece of land. None of them informed me about her death.
I only got to learn about it from a cousin on her burial day, and could therefore not attend. Later, two of my sister’s invited me to visit them in Nairobi.
Hoping that it was for reconciliation, I went, only to find out that they had arranged for me to marry a man much older than me.
Shocked, I refused, and for the first time, they told me what they really thought about me, “You are cursed,” they said, “We were doing you a favour living with you.”
I went back to school heartbroken, but determined to work harder, so that I could become self-reliant. I did well in my exams, performing even better than my literate counterparts.
As a gift, my sponsor bought me a knitting machine, while Cecilia gave me money to rent a house and set up a shop at Jericho market, in the outskirts of Nairobi. My business picked up, but unfortunately, fire razed some structures in the market one night, including my shop.
I lost everything, including my machine. Fortunately, Mr Kinyua managed to get me another machine from Christian Mission for the Blind, but the business did not perform as well as it had the first time.
To survive, I got another job as a house help.
My current employer, Leah (she requested to remain annonymous) who I have worked for, for seven years now, has been very supportive. She is very financial savvy, and convinced me to save most of my salary. Initially, I objected because a house girl’s salary is not much, but she informed me that there is no “big or small money.” At the end of every year I work, she gives me a bonus.
Over time, the money has grown, and together, we bought a piece of land a few years ago, which we later sold after it appreciated by 100 per cent.
My employer then identified a low-cost housing scheme, and on her advice, I joined a Sacco in partnership with this scheme, where I ploughed my proceeds from the sale of the piece of land. To date, I continue to channel part of my monthly salary towards the purchase price so that I can eventually own a home.
I also have a reliable support system in church and here at Leah’s home. I finally feel accepted, and finally have a sense of belonging.
Initially, I was bitter and suicidal. In my search for healing, I once walked into a church only for the pastor to say, “karibu mzungu.” That devastated me.
Church is God’s house for healing and ministry, not ridicule. After that incident, I kept off church for a long time. I was convinced to start going again when I met Rhoda Jumba, a special needs teacher who has become a close friend.
The sermon I heard in the church she went to changed my life. I learnt that I was complete in the eyes of God, and that He completely loves and accepts me as I am. Slowly, I started healing.
There is power in forgiveness, and though I am not in contact with my siblings, I have forgiven them, and I am now free of all bitterness.
Leah talks about her relationship with Alice, who she considers family
“House helps are human beings, and deserve to be treated with respect, and if you’re in a position to, empower them, so that they can positively transform their lives.
Often, if treated well, they will extend the same goodwill to your children. Alice is part of our family, and this is her home.
We once went on holiday to Zanzibar, and aware of the risks people with albinism face in Tanzania, we sacrificed to raise airfare for all of us, rather than go by road.
My job is rather involving, and knowing that my children are well-cared for gives me peace. I like stability, so I prefer that my helpers stay with me for a year or more.
To achieve this, I help them define a goal that can transform their lives when achieved – for instance saving for college education or raising capital for a business.
Once the goal is defined, they start saving part of their salary towards this goal, and as an incentive, I add a 50 per cent bonus to their annual salary.
Alice will one day leave my house and maybe get married and perhaps have children of her own, when she leaves, I want to make sure that she will have somewhere decent to call her own.”