Attacked for body parts, Tanzanian albino children get new limbs in US

PHILADELPHIA, May 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Emmanuel Rutema couldn't keep the smile off his face as he tested out his new prosthetic arm and promptly knocked himself on the nose.

"Be careful with your face!" the hospital prosthetist told the boy whose grin just grew wider.

Rutema is one of four Tanzanian children with albinism visiting the United States to get prosthetic limbs to replace those hacked off in brutal superstition-driven attacks in their East African homeland.

At Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia on Tuesday three of them got the new limbs that will help them do everyday tasks most people take for granted.

7 PHOTOS
Tanzanian albino children get new limbs at Shriners Hospital
See Gallery
Tanzanian albino children get new limbs at Shriners Hospital
Emmanuel Rutema, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, tries to put on a new prosthetic arm at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Baraka Lusambo, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, waits after his new prosthetic arm was attached at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A worker helps Emmanuel Rutema, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, put on a new prosthetic arm at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Emmanuel Rutema, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, waits for his new prosthetic arm at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Baraka Lusambo, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, waits after his new prosthetic arm was attached at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Baraka Lusambo, a Tanzanian with Albinism who had his arm chopped off in a superstition-driven attack, waits for his new prosthetic arm at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Rutema, the oldest at 15, speaks with difficulty. His attackers chopped off one arm and the fingers of the other hand and tried to pull out his tongue and teeth.

Also getting prosthetics were Baraka Lusambo, 7, and Mwigulu Magesa, 14, each of whom lost parts of their arms in attacks.

People with albinism live in danger in Tanzania where their body parts are used in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe they are ghosts and bad luck.

Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, but it is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400.

The Tanzanian children are getting treatment in the United States with support from the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), a New York-based charity that hosts children from around the world who have been injured in conflict or disaster.

16 PHOTOS
Global Medical Relief Fund
See Gallery
Global Medical Relief Fund

Baraka Cosmas Rusambo, 6, began treatment for prothesis at Shriners Hospital on June 17, 2015 in North Philadelphia, Pa. Rusambo lost his right hand to witchcraft-related attack in Tanzania because he has albinism. Global Medical Relief Fund and Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia examines children for any necessary operations and fitment of prosthetics.

(Alejandro A. Alvarez/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)

Daniel Solis, 14, from Nicaragua, puts on his prosthetic leg at a home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

(L to R) Carlos Castro ,15, Daniel Solis ,14, and Alexis Pineda, 7, all from Nicaragua, speak at the home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund, stands outside one of her homes in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Alexis Pineda, 7, from Nicaragua, lies on a bed at a home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund, talks with Baraka Lusambo, a Tanzanian with Albinism visiting the U.S. for medical care, after his arrival at JFK International Airport in New York City, U.S., March 25, 2017.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Carlos Castro,15, from Nicaragua, puts on his prosthetic legs at a home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

5-year-old Baraka Cosmas Lusambo (R) from Tanzania holds hands with Elissa Montanati of the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, September 21, 2015. Albino body parts are highly valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe albino children are ghosts who bring bad luck. Some believe the limbs are more potent if the victims scream during amputation, according to a 2013 United Nations report. Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400. United Nations officials estimate about 75 albinos have been killed in the east African nation since 2000 and have voiced fears of rising attacks ahead of this year's election, as politicians seek good luck charms from witch doctors. 

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

5-year-old Baraka Cosmas Lusambo from Tanzania talks with Elissa Montanati of the Global Medical Relief Fund in his bedroom in the Staten Island borough of New York, September 21, 2015. Albino body parts are highly valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe albino children are ghosts who bring bad luck. Some believe the limbs are more potent if the victims scream during amputation, according to a 2013 United Nations report. Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400. United Nations officials estimate about 75 albinos have been killed in the east African nation since 2000 and have voiced fears of rising attacks ahead of this year's election, as politicians seek good luck charms from witch doctors. Picture taken September 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Daniel Solis, 14, from Nicaragua, puts on his prosthetic leg at a home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Alexis Pineda, 7, from Nicaragua, rests on a couch at a home provided by the Global Medical Relief Fund in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., March 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: TO GO WITH AFP STORY Ahmad Sharif, age 7, from Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, waits to be fitted with his new prosthetic eyes by Ocularist Annette Kirszrot in her New York office 25 May 2005, as his bother Saad Sharif (R) looks on. Sharif was brought to the United States with the help of the Global Medical Relief Fund to receive new eyes and a right arm after he was injured by a bomb near his home in Iraq. His brother Saad said, 'we are trying to make him forget the accident, what happened...sometimes he doesn't sleep and keeps thinking, he has thoughts about it that he can't express, that he expresses with broken sentences'.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Ahmad Sharif, age 7, from Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, is fitted with his two new prosthetic eyes by Ocularist Annette Kirszrot in her New York office 25 May 2005 . Sharif was brought to the United States with the help of the Global Medical Relief Fund to receive new eyes and a right arm after he was injured by a bomb near his home in Iraq. His brother Saad who sat with him during the treatment said, 'we are trying to make him forget the accident, what happened...sometimes he doesn't sleep and keeps thinking, he has thoughts about it that he can't express, that he expresses with broken sentences'.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Kabula Nkalango, 18, talks with Dan Zlotolow, a specialist in hand and upper-extremity surgery, on June 17, 2015 at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa. Nkalango lost her right arm to a machete attack in Tanzania because she suffers from albinism. At left is Elissa Montanti, founder and director of Global Medical Relief Fund.

(Alejandro A. Alvarez/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)

Ahmad Sharif, age 7, from Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, is shown with a before and after look after receiving his two new prosthetic eyes by Ocularist Annette Kirszrot in her New York office 25 May 2005. Sharif was brought to the United States with the help of the Global Medical Relief Fund to receive new eyes and a right arm after he was injured by a bomb near his home in Iraq. His brother Saad who sat with him during the treatment said, 'we are trying to make him forget the accident, what happened...sometimes he doesn't sleep and keeps thinking, he has thoughts about it that he can't express, that he expresses with broken sentences'.
 

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

THREATS AND MURDER

Elissa Montanti, founder of GMRF, called the children from Tanzania "gentle souls."

"When they come here, they have lost so much. They have lost part of their youth and part of their dignity," Montanti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the Philadelphia hospital.

"We put them back together. When they go back, they have a stronger sense of empowerment. I see such a difference."

For these children, this is the second trip to the United States for prosthetics and they leave next week. They first came two years ago and they have returned for larger limbs because they have grown. They could return again for larger equipment.

Their new arms are attached with shoulder harnesses, and the elbows and fingers are controlled with cables.

Within minutes, Lusambo, the youngest, was clowning around, using his new hand to erect a tower of plastic building blocks and chomping on a candy lollipop.

Magesa was more serious and stood stiffly as the prosthetist tugged at his harness straps and tightened its buckles.

Asked what he would be doing at home in Tanzania with his new arm, he said: "Washing clothes."

The children attend boarding school and live in so-called safe houses in Tanzania. They rarely go out in public because it frightens them and could put them in danger, said Ester Rwela, a social worker with the charity Under the Same Sun who came with them to the United States.

United Nations officials estimate at least 75 albinos were killed in the east African nation between 2000 and 2015 but fear the number of reported attacks represent just a fraction of the total as most are secretive rituals in rural areas.

Under the Same Sun runs a public awareness campaign to dispel notions that the bodies of people with albinism have special powers or should be sacrificed for their limbs.

Superstition holds that having a piece of a person with albinism can bring luck finding a well-stocked fishing site or a plentiful gold mine or bring a victory in politics, Rwela said.

"What we are fighting with is the mindset of the people," she said.

"When a witch doctor says, 'Bring me a part of an albino and you will be successful,' they go and do it. Someone can be educated, but they believe in superstition to be successful."

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

Read Full Story