Utah woman working to save African albino children

Published: Saturday, Dec. 18 2010 6:30 a.m. MST

SALEM, Utah — Jami Quesenberry had never seen such despair on anyone’s face before. As she left the dispensary in Lutsangani, Kenya, the 47-year-old Mormon mother and housewife couldn’t shake off the feeling the mother’s face created in her soul.

“I had gone on an expedition … to help build schools in Kenya for Koins for Kenya,” Quesenberry said. “We did that and had a great time when I noticed this woman with her albino child, sitting off to the side. Her face was full of despair. It just filled me with sorrow. The girl was white and covered with sores from exposure to the sun. Her skin was flaking off.” At that point, all Quesenberry felt she could do was to send up prayers in the woman and child’s behalf.

Waiting at the Nairobi airport for her flight, though, she discovered more of the chilling story involving African albino children.

Some believe the body parts of albinos are magic, so there is an active black market that pays as much as $10,000 for such a child. That puts albino children at great risk.

Quesenberry went home to America discouraged and worried.

“Six months later, I was asked to be on the board for Koins for Kenya to be in charge of a large expedition,” Quesenberry said. “I asked my friends on the board if there was any way to find the mother I had seen. I brought over some sunscreen and medications for her.

“Then I heard about a man, Hussein Lumbambo, who was starting a school for albino children in Kinandaongo, a safe school with a high-walled dormitory for the students. The man’s benefactor had donated money for the school’s construction, but the money had run out.”

Besides the cost of running a school, the students must be fed and provided protective uniforms, hats, shoes and sunscreen. They need access to clean water.

“I had the feeling it was time for me to help, but what could I do? I’m just a regular person,” Quesenberry said.

She started simply, holding a garage sale to raise money. She and her husband and eight children cleaned out their closets and collected whatever they could sell.

“We are not short on stuff. We are a country of stuff. Everyone has stuff. That’s how I came up with the idea for a garage sale,” she said. “It gives everyone a way to help.

“My dream is to go back to that women’s village some day and see that look of despair gone, replaced with a smile.”

In September, she received news about the woman she’d seen.

The woman, known as Mwanahamisi, had come to the school, stumbling in, hungry and afraid. Her husband had divorced her for bearing two albino children, and he was coming for the children with a machete.

He was stopped before he could harm them, secured within the walls of the private school. It’s estimated there are 100 such children just in the nearby area, and there are more women coming forward with their albino children now that there’s a safe place to come.

In the United States, one child out of 20,000 is born without pigmentation in his or her skin.

In Kenya, the number is much higher because it’s a recessive gene, and there’s much more intermarriage.

Koins for Kenya officials are trying to find sponsors for the children, so they can afford to come to the school. (Many come with only an ear of corn for their lunch and nothing else.)

Bret Van Leeuwen, an Alpine businessman and founder of Koins for Kenya, said the school for albino children is purposefully located in a village that’s not easily accessible. He said when the school opens in January, he expects 80 children but is prepared for 100.

“We don’t know what the enrollment will be,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen.”

For more information, go to www.koinsforkenya.org.

e-mail: haddoc@desnews.com


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