Growing up in Montreal, Canada, Peter Ash was teased about his stark white skin, which is a result of albinism, a congenital absence of pigment in the hair, eyes, and skin. Today, Ash is working to make sure others don't suffer the same ridicule. And he's focusing his efforts on Tanzania, where he says more than 46 Albino people have been murdered since 2007 in this week's installment of VOA's "Making a Difference."
School children in the Northern West Mwanza district of Tanzania seem happy,but because they have albinism, a genetic condition, they live in a state of constant fear.
In Tanzania and other parts of East Africa, some people believe Albino blood, skin and hair have the power to make people rich. This has lead to a spate of brutal murders.
"One boy that we visited there -- his sister was killed. And so this boy saw his sister chopped apart in front of his eyes, one limb at a time. Her throat was slit, and the blood was drained, by the killers, while the other children watched in horror," Ash explained.
Stories like these are what prompted Peter Ash, who also has albinism, to take action. Last year, he started a non-profit group called "Under The Same Sun."
The group aims to help individuals who are disadvantaged by disability or poverty. Through his organization, Ash is raising awareness about the murders, and pressuring the Tanzanian government to stop them. "We need to see convictions, we need to see more than just talk, and we need to see a concrete plan of action put in place to protect the albino community," he said.
Tanzania's average income is about $800 a year. Ash says the prospect of wealth, along with a lack of education about albinism, is propagating the myth. Ash says police officers have been arrested for conspiring in the killings, and so have family members.
"In about half the cases, immediate or extended family, or close friends are complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the killings. I've talked to people in the albino community and they don't know who to trust," he said. "The only people they really trust are the other people with albinism."
Ash is seeking action from the United Nations. But so far, despite a visit to U.N. he says he has been unable to attract high level attention to the plight of albinos in Tanaznia.