This month’s feature is activist and author, Mpho Tjope. Tjope is involved with many initiatives that support young people with albinism in South Africa. His book ‘Life with albinism filled with pearls’ addresses some of the challenges people with the condition face.
Tell us a bit about your background and the work you do.
I am originally from a small township near Kimberly called Delportshoop, I am the 4th child out of 7 that my parents have. I am the only one with albinism out of 7 children. Furthermore, I was the only one with albinism in the whole community, so I had to endure a lot of teasing and challenges that came with albinism. In retrospect I see that my parents didn’t know a lot about albinism as I didn’t use sunscreen and I had challenges of sun burn and not seeing well [in classroom setting], all challenges that comes with albinism. After matric I went to study at Wits University and that’s when I came to Gauteng.
What propelled you to be an activist, and how much have your experiences impacted the work you currently do?
My experience has informed a lot of what I do today, the reason I focus mainly on youth is because I experienced a lot of pain that I don’t want any person with albinism to experience. That’s why I push more on self-confidence and self-actualization, as giving learners sunscreen and all that is important but any opportunity that isn’t equally balanced with mental readiness, at times goes to waste. We want to give opportunities to young people who doubt themselves, who have been teased to a point of psychological scars, then in the media we show killings – and again at school learners face their inadequacies as they can’t see properly. No one reminds them that there is greatness in them; that is where our NGO comes in; Albinism Advocacy for Access. We have various wonderful programs that not only empower them but pushes to make them ready for the opportunities that we give or may come their way.
Am I correct in saying your albinism awareness work mainly focuses on empowering young people with the condition? Why did you decide on this focus?
Yes, we focus mainly on youth, someone once said it is easier to build a child than to repair an adult. Many times, we are reactionary to issues of albinism, a proactive approach is also key. I am not saying other organisations are doing it wrong, I just feel that we can all work together however different our work is.
We focus on the mental strength because a lot of children drop out of school. A lot of them also try to commit suicide. I have been around South Africa and a few other countries in Africa. The fact that these learners leave school early contributes to our suffering as they will grow to be dependents, it means they won’t find a decent job to buy lotions and sunscreens, which aggravates our challenges. So, my project, specifically the #ICanBe Campaign, focuses on ensuring the learners see their potential to be anything their dream by bringing in professionals with albinism in one space with them, then sharing experiences and pushing the fact that as young people, they may be experiencing challenges, but they shouldn’t drop out of school as they can be all that they desire
With the challenge of having eye sight issues, what has helped you navigate the day-to-day demands of your life?
Sunglasses have been instrumental as they at least assist with using a computer and navigating my daily tasks
What message do you have for people with the condition reading this, especially young people?
The message I have for young people with albinism is that at times the evidence of this is hard to find in the cruel world we live in, but your life is important, you must believe in your future. There are people who work daily on the ground to ensure that lives of people with albinism become better, that community mindsets about albinism change; so not all is lost, the future is going to be better. And enjoy each day because you are special. Your awesomeness doesn’t depend on what others think of you, it comes from the truth that you are no less than others, and you have every right to be here.