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Mom doubted I was her child when she saw me for first time -Woman living with albinism

My name is Ifeoluwa Gloria Faniran, and I am from Osun State. I was born in the late 1980s into the family of Mr & Mrs Bola Faniran. I’m the fifth child.

One unique thing about my birth is that I was born with albinism. My mother told me that the first time she set her eyes on me, she doubted if I was her child. Why? She had given birth to four children, and none of them had albinism. So, when the nurses gave her a baby with albinism, she felt that they had switched her child.

Fortunately, my grandmother had witnessed the delivery process, and she was the one who convinced her that no one switched her child. So, she had no option but to accept me for who I am.

I grew up in a humble home. My parents were my earliest influences. They were petty traders. Although they were not rich, they valued education greatly. I attended Christ Apostolic Church Primary School in Ijebu Ijesa. After completing my common entrance examination, I proceeded to Ijebu Ijesa Grammar School. Life in secondary school was both interesting and challenging.

Because my grandmother witnessed my birth, she was able to convince my mum that no one switched her child

What is albinism?
It is a genetic condition that affects the production of melanin, which is responsible for giving colour to the skin, hair, and eyes. This can result in people with albinism having pale skin, white or light-coloured hair, and eyes.

Misconceptions and discrimination against people with albinism
In the last three decades of my life, I have heard different misconceptions about people with albinism. Some people believe that we are not humans; we don’t eat salt, we see clearer at night, and having sex with us actually feels different.

In some parts of the world, there is a thriving black market for the body parts of people with albinism, who are believed to possess magical powers. This has resulted in kidnapping and murder of people with albinism.

Due to these misconceptions, some people with albinism experience discrimination in our society. For example, many children with albinism are denied access to education because either their parents or teachers believe that they are unable to learn due to their low vision.

Some people believe that sex with an albino feels different

I have experienced discrimination while searching for a job. Most employers assume that people with albinism cannot perform certain tasks. Even in building relationships, there are some people who cannot associate with us for no reason.

Gloria Faniran

I used to date a guy whom I loved so much. He also loved me; but any time people saw us together, they would ask him if he didn’t see a “complete” woman out there. The fact that I have albinism doesn’t make me an incomplete woman. Unfortunately, not everyone understands it that way. To cut a long story short, we broke up, and I had to move on.

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Among all the bullying incidents that I experienced while growing up, there is this particular one that I cannot forget. On that day, a gang of boys walked up to me and collected my book. I didn’t really see the particular person who took it, and when I asked for it, they started making jokes about my low vision. I begged them to stop but they refused. At that time, I was very shy and couldn’t defend myself. So, I started crying. Later on, they gave me the book and left without knowing how emotionally pained I was.

Whenever people saw me and my ex-boyfriend together, they always asked him if he didn’t see a ‘complete woman’ out there

How I became an advocate
While growing up, I isolated myself from others because I felt like a lesser human being. My dream was to become a nurse, but I was discouraged by people around me. They told me that no hospital would employ a nurse who has low vision. Sadly, I listened to the naysayers and didn’t want to further my education anymore.

For many years, I lived a lonely life. I used to cry and question the reason for my existence. However, one day, someone invited me to a seminar organised by the Albino Foundation in Lagos State. At that programme, I met other people with albinism who were doing well in their careers. After listening to the motivational presentation by one of the speakers, I stood up, wiped my tears, and said to myself, “Ifeoluwa, you are not a mistake. No matter what people say, always believe that you were made in the image of God.”

Guess what! That was the beginning of my healing and transformation. I worked very hard to build a new mindset that is always positive about everything. After I regained my self-esteem, the first thing I did was to further my education to the tertiary level.

I used to cry and question the reason for my existence

After I learned how to defend myself from abusers, I joined other organisations to speak out against violence and abuse of women and girls with disabilities. Currently, I am an active member of the Irede Foundation and the Inclusive Friends Association. As a volunteer, I participate in several campaigns to educate, support, and empower people with disabilities.

Due to my passion for this field, I had to enrol in professional courses, and today I’m proud to announce that I’m a certified lead advocate for women and girls with disabilities.

Self-fulfilling moments
Since I became an advocate, I have received several pats on the back for helping people the best way I could. Ten years ago, I met a young girl with albinism. Her family had isolated her from other people. She wasn’t going to school, the market, or anywhere. I visited her parents and spoke to them about the importance of educating their daughter.

They said the first day she went to school, people were teasing her, and she came home crying. I spoke to her and encouraged her to guard her emotions. The good news is that she continued her education and is currently studying her dream course at the university.

I believe that if disabled women are financially independent, the rate of gender-based abuse will reduce

There are many other people who were inspired after listening to me, and it gives me joy whenever I get feedback from them. One of my future career goals is to create a foundation that empowers women and girls with disabilities. We will teach them different skills and give them funds to start their businesses. I believe that if these women are financially independent, then the rate of gender-based abuse will be reduced.

I hope to find someone who would look beyond my complexion and love me genuinely

I am still single and hoping to find someone who would look beyond my complexion and love me genuinely. When I started working as a volunteer for people with disabilities, my siblings didn’t understand why I was so passionate about my role. It took some time before they started supporting me fully.

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I relax by sleeping, reading, or watching Korean movies. My favourite book is the Holy Bible, and I enjoy listening to gospel music. If I had the opportunity to meet a public figure one on one, I would love to meet American Television host Steve Harvey.

Word of advice
In life, everyone has physical or non-physical challenges that they are dealing with. So, don’t ever feel like you are alone on this journey.

According to Stevie Wonder, who was born blind, “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” Therefore, instead of focusing on your disability, identify your strengths and talents and use them to your advantage.

It could be your creativity, problem-solving skills, or empathy. You have a light in you, so let it shine.

Don’t expect everyone to like you. Always avoid negative energy and surround yourself with people who believe in you.

For those women experiencing domestic violence and abuse, don’t keep silent. Speak out and seek help from organisations that protect human rights.

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