Albinos in Liberia say a new dedicated center could signal the beginning of a brighter future for them in their effort to fight discrimination.
The first ever center opened, much to the delight of more than 6000 people living with the congenital disorder which affects the production of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.
Albinos - with their very pale complexions - have certain physical challenges, such as being more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancers.
But Patricia Logan, president of the Albino Society, tells VOA that they consider their condition to be merely cosmetic.
“You know, albinos, for example when the sun is shining like this, we burn in the sun because our pigmentation is very low. You know if you go out there you can feel the sun bright and we know that in the evening hour we get chilly and sore blisters on our lips because of our condition," she explained. "But we were made like that, in the image of god, and we accept that and we cannot discriminate our color - but our condition is cosmetic.”
In West Africa the main problem albinos face is discrimination.
Logan says scores of albinos - herself included - have been ostracized because of the way they look. That discrimination can take different forms: from being denied jobs, denied the opportunity to join a national security force, or being refused public scholarships. She says people are even reluctant to buy food sold by albinos in markets.
She says her organization’s role, and that of the new center, is to help Albinos achieve equality in society. “There will be training in place for them - we have for example micro-loans, computers, electricity, masonry, plumbing, agriculture, all of that is stuff for the albinos,” she stated.
Another role for the center is to educate people about Albinos. But Logan notes all these efforts take money. “We are trying to reach out to the people who have the funding who can support the charity to talk to them. We tell them that albinos also need assistance. If they can do it for the blind and the deaf and dumb and the handicapped - the albinos also need assistance. In the long run I think there comes a time when they have to look at albinos and see how best to support us,” she noted.
Logan says her center is bound to make a difference in the lives of Liberia's Albinos, but that across Africa prejudice is entrenched.
The International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says that between 2007 and 2009, at least 10,000 people with albinism in Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi abandoned their villages and went into hiding to escape threats and other discrimination.