Nairobi Hosts First East Africa’s Albinism Pageant

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This week on Inside Africa, CNN International travels to Nairobi to attend the first albinism beauty pageant in East Africa. The programme is introduced to a range of participants who explain how the pageant is helping to change what people see by redefining beauty. 

Kysh Roberts, the choreographer at the Mister and Miss Albinism East Africa Pageant, explains how thirty contestants from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya have travelled to Nairobi to compete in the event. He explains what the pageant hopes to achieve: “What we are doing here is more like training them [participants] and equipping them with the right skills… we just want to show that beauty is beyond the skin and the fact that they just walk like little princesses and little kings is really amazing.”

Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigment in skin, hair and eyes. Tanzanian contestant Chevawe Kasure explains the discrimination she has faced due to the genetic condition: “Tanzania is a very big country it’s full of so many people, but some people are still thinking in the old traditional ways. People will literally just come up and touch and normally I don’t mind… but not those who will come and pinch! Like they want to see if it comes out, like if it is applied… I’d like to change the perspective and bring some sort of understanding to Tanzania as a whole [on] what albinism is and how not different we are to other people.”

East Africa has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world and the pageant offers contestants a chance to be understood as contestant Alan Herbert explains: “I believe Mr and Miss Albinism east Africa is a huge platform for people with albinism to communicate and connect.”

For the last eleven years, ophthalmologist Dr Prabha Choksey has been treating people with albinism for free every Tuesday. Dr Choksey fondly recounts the joy of helping children see for the first time: “I would say that without glasses 70-80 percent are legally blind but with glasses over 95 percent do not come in the bracket of legal blindness… when a child with albinism puts on glasses for the first time, I think the world has to see their faces… the things that they had never seen before suddenly becoming so clear… When they look in the mirror with the glasses they see a beautiful person staring back at them”

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Another Miss albinism contestant, Maryann Mungai, has prospered thanks to Dr Choksey’s kindness – the doctor paid for Mungai’s high school fees. With support from her community and family Mungai is able to compete in the pageant, however, she tells the programme how not everyone has always been accepting. She says: “The fact that the people that I lived with accepted me still didn’t give me the confidence I needed… I would feel a bit low. We have to be normal. We don’t have to get a lot of attention, so we can be accepted or something. I think that’s the main point, people should live normally and be accepted”

Mungai reflects on how positive the pageant has been in making contestants feel included: “I believe that it will teach them something. It will show them we are people like you, we can do anything the only thing we don’t have is melanin that’s all… With an event like this many people living with albinism they’ll get to know that people like us are able to do anything. They can model, they can sing, they can dance they can do anything”

This year’s pageant was organized by the Albinism Society of Kenya and spearheaded by Kenya’s first and only member of parliament with albinism, Isaac Mwaura, who saw Maryann Mungai crowned as Miss Albinism East Africa. Mungai excitedly tells CNN about her success: “I’m just confused right now. I’m happy excited there is a lot on my mind right now. I just can’t believe it’s me… I hope that I’ll help many other people who are going through what I went through. Many people who haven’t accepted themselves yet. Many people going through challenges the society haven’t noticed yet.