My first glimpse of Beti was from a distance as she walked with a group of kids at our Trees of Glory Care-Point. My eyes followed her and I looked to Simret (the CarePoint director) with a puzzled look on my face. "Who is she?" I asked. "Is she enrolled here?"
I recognize almost all of the kids at Trees of Glory and could easily pick out the newest kids - but Beti stood out from the crowd of 150 kids because she has Albinism. A somewhat rare gene mutation, Albinism is passed on to a child when the recessive gene mutation is inherited from both parents. It produces a lack of pigment cells in the skin, hair and eyes and is accompanied by visual impairment.
In African countries, especially in remote rural areas where the disorder is not understood, it can be viewed as a curse and a child can be completely ostracized and rejected by their families and their community. In some areas of Africa, there have been targeted killings.
This beautiful photo (below) circulated online recently as part of news stories about killings in Tanzania, which have been targeted at people with Albinism. An evil trade in body parts that supersticion holds have special magical powers.
Beti was as curious about us as we were about her. By some strange coincidence, there were 4 volunteers with red hair on our team (including me) and Beti was fascinated that we had hair color and light skin similar to hers. She kept her distance at first (most kids do until they get to know us), shyly watching and observing our activities at the CarePoint.
She hovered near Simret much of the time, and when she got brave enough to come close enough, I reached my hand out to her and she took my hand. I folded her into an embrace and held her close as I continued my conversation with Simret. Within a few minutes, Beti tapped me on my wrist, and pointed to my skin and hers, comparing. I smiled and nodded - and she cracked a shy smile too.
Later, I had a chance in private to ask Simret about Beti. Simret explained how Beti was born to a family in a village about a 3 hour drive away. She had 3 siblings and her entire family "had very dark skin" Simret explained.
They did not understand how a child with this skin color could be born to their family, and they believed she was a curse. She was left on her own and oftentimes turned out of her home with no place to go. There was abuse and neglect, no education and very little provision for her basic needs. Someone who knew of her situation intervened, and word came to Simret, asking if a child could be placed permanently at the CarePoint.
Of course Simret opened her arms and her heart to this child. Simret told me how Beti is wary and scared, and oftentimes aggressive if she feels threatened. But she is safe and loved and going to school and Simret and the kids are teaching her to trust again.
One of our volunteers, Julie Fernandez, noticed Beti right away too and asked me if she was new (yes) and does she have a sponsor (no). At that moment, Julie asked if her family could be Beti's sponsor family (YES!). Julie spent that evening selecting items for a special gift for Beti.
We then sat down with Simret and a few other staff members to explain why Beti's skin was painfully red (sunburn), why her eyes were so watery from the blinding, harsh sun, and why her lips were cracked and bleeding (sunburn). Julie showed Beti and the staff how to use sunscreen (and we explained how all of us had to use it to avoid a painful sunburn) and wear a hat, long sleeves and sunglasses. Upon donning the sunglasses, Beti's was able to open her eyes instead of squinting and she stood up and gave Julie an extravagant hug.
Beti lives full-time at Trees of Glory CarePoint now and Julie's sponsorship provides for all of her basic needs (nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship) while she learns to love and trust again under Simret's compassionate care.