Four albino children, who lost body parts from brutal superstition-driven attacks in Tanzania, became recipients of new prosthetic limbs in the U.S.
The four children were treated at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia last month with support from the New York-based Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), which helps children worldwide who have suffered from injuries in conflict or disaster, the Thomas Reuters Foundation reported.
This wasn't the first time they were getting prosthetic limbs. Two years ago, they also traveled to the U.S. to be fitted with prosthetics. They returned this year to get new ones because they have outgrown the older limbs.
The children were aged 7, 14, 15 and 16. One of them, Rutema, had one arm and the fingers of the other hand cut off. His attackers also attempted to pull out his tongue and teeth, making it difficult for him to speak until now.
The body parts of albino children are highly prized in Tanzania because of a superstitious belief that these could bring wealth and good luck, putting albino children at a high risk of being hunted by witch doctors from the time of their birth.
Businessmen in the country are said to hire witch doctors to increase their wealth. Politicians also hire witch doctors to boost their chances of winning the election.
Thus, kidnappings and mutilation of albino children are heightened every time an election season approaches, such as in 2015, when the police recorded increased attacks on albino children during the first few months of the year alone.
In 2009, Red Cross released a report saying a "complete set" of albino body parts could fetch for about $75,000.
"The market for albino body parts exists mainly if not exclusively in Tanzania, generated by big-money buyers who use them as talismans to bring luck and above all wealth," the report said.
Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera confirmed the reports.
"If a politician needs to win an election, they will consult a witch doctor, but then politicians will blame the fishermen" for murdered albinos, Kabendera told National Geographic.
Earlier this year, the BBC released a documentary focusing on the plight of albino children in East Africa. It featured the story of Fletcher Massina, whose mutilated body was found by his brother Chikumbutzo on a ridge. Fletcher's limbs were cut off, and his brain, heart, liver, lungs and kidneys were removed.
Fletcher's attacker, who was hired to do the job, said he was promised money.
"I was sent by some people who wanted this to happen," the man said. "They promised us [money] to share among us. We cut the arms and the legs."
"There was a person with us giving out instructions, what was needed from the body, the rest was no good. That's what we did."
The man was caught by police and jailed.
Albinos not only face the constant risk of being attacked or murdered for their body parts. They also face ridicule and persecution from society and sometimes even from their own family members, as supersititious beliefs and a lack of understanding of albinism lead people to think that albinos bring bad luck to the family.
The four children who went to the U.S. for new limbs traveled with Ester Rwela, a social worker from Under the Same Sun, an organization that conducts public awareness campaigns dispelling the notion that albinos' body parts can be used to gain some kind of power.
"What we are fighting with is the mindset of the people," Rwela 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."
The four albino children stayed in the U.S. for about two to three months. Watching cartoons and YouTube videos, drawing and interacting with each other helped them heal from the trauma they suffered in Tanzania.
They all went back home last week, where they will stay in safe houses that would hopefully keep danger at bay.
GMRF founder Elissa Montanti was positive that the four children would go back to their country with "a stronger ssense of empowerment."
"When they come here, they have lost so much. They have lost part of their youth and part of their dignity," she said, according to Reuters. "We put them back together. When they go back, they have a stronger sense of empowerment."