For most albinos, growing up in Nigeria and most parts of Africa is not a walk in the park. Mrs Onome Akinlolu-Majaro, founder, Onome Akinlolu-Majaro Foundation, (OAM) an organisation that seeks to change public perception of albinos in the country, says that she has come this far unscathed because she had the unwavering support of her mother. She recently,collaborated with Ada Ossai production to premiere a short movie titled “ Beyond the Complexion(BTC) an advocacy movie on albino.
Can you tell us what your relationship with your mum was like as a child?
Growing up as a child was quite interesting to me because my mum made things easy for me. I have a genetic condition that is usually discriminated and stigmatized, but my lovely mum built confidence around me and I had self esteeme despite my condition. It was because I had a wonderful mother that showed me so much love and the bond between us made me survive the discrimination associated with albino.
I never bothered about the ‘fairness’ of my complexion until my classmates drew my attention to the fact that I had a skin colour that was ‘odd’ compared to that of the other 23 pupils in our class.
After this incident, it became a tug of war for me to go to school because I then realised that I was “different”.
I started experiencing humiliation, which didn’t get any better as I grew older. My complexion became a‘weapon’ to attack me anytime I had a disagreement with anyone.
“Many pupils and some in our neighbourhood sang, ‘Oyinbo Pepper/“Chukwu Chukwu Pepper’, while clapping their hands at me, anytime there was a little disagreement. I thought it was because I was very fair until I noticed that I was the fairest person in the class. I began to keep to myself. I was scared to say anything because I knew I would be called these derogatory names”. But my mum swung into action and began to educate me about my skin colour and how to manage the situation I became very happy that I could live a normal life, even with my complexion.
This beautiful bond grew by the day and became so precious in our eyes. My mum used to drive my siblings and I to school and it gave us the opportunity to talk without any distractions.
Oh! how I miss those daily conversations during those car rides that contributed to my development and strengthened our relationship. My mum always looked out for me. She taught me how to be comfortable in my skin.
What are some of the things your mum told you not to do as a child?
My mum told me not to waste my life and never to be unrealistic in my plans for the future. She also told me never to be jealous or envious of other people. Her favorites lines are: “You must first love yourself and be confident and should be proud of who you are”. “Don’t let the looks and words from people get to you”.
Anytime I wanted to go out. She’ll remind me that the sun isn’t good for me. She’ll say,” Onome please stay away from the sun; use your glasses, umbrella and sunscreen”.
Can you describe your relationship with her as teenager?
As a teenager, I had a healthy mother/daughter bond with my mum. My teenage years were good.
Sometimes, when I felt bad on random comments, and I wanted to retreat to my shell, my mum would always tell me to rise above that level of thinking. She loves going out with me, so that I will be more confident. She always tells me to love myself first, and that not everyone is going to like me. However, we had our fair share of squabbles and misunderstandings.
To that effect I would say, the mother/daughter relationship is burdened with challenges at every stage of life, but what we have learned is to be aware of likely barriers early, and manage it.
We try to communicate explicitly and most importantly, make up with hugs and declarations of love and gratitude to each other. My mum is my friend and we always look for common grounds.
What did she tell you about boys as a teenager?
Very early, my mum taught me that any boy who didn’tt see my worth hadn’t earned a place in my life. She would always say most fairy tales were written by men and I should not be carried away, because emotions are real. She told me that true love is about affection, selflessness and generosity. As I was growing up, I got to know that my mum is not the most traditional woman and she doesn’t believe in doing things the way others do, just for conformity’s sake. She started teaching me and my siblings’ sex education while we were in the primary school. So, we discussed the opposite sex a lot. She once told me that discussing sex positively doesn’t necessarily encourage promiscuity like silence could.
She told me not to focus on what my friends were doing. She equally told me, don’t be in a hurry to have sex. But when the time arises I will feel totally ready, and deserves a safe and pleasurable experience. She is a strong advocate of abstinence.
Can you share your experiences with the male counterparts, were their forms of discrimination based on your complexion?
There are no words to describe how being discriminated against feels. I presume that everyone deals with it differently. During my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I turned down the advances from a guy and he shouted at me, and said “I don’t blame you, who will love you or date you. How can you, an ‘albino’ turn me down; you that I was doing a favour, to have wooed me. “Who would I even marry someone like you”. On that day, I felt very bad, until my mum assured me that I am loved, and that in life some people say hurtful things, when things don’t go their way. She also told me that at the right time, I would find someone that loves me for who I am; and until then, I must not settle for less because she knows my worth. As fate will have it, today, I am not only married to an amazing, protective and super caring man but I am a mother, blessed with a lovely son. Other than that incident, my experiences with the opposite sex haven’t been bad. There were occasional stares and comments but I have learnt to rise above them.
How did you surmount those periods?
I have an amazing support system from my family and friends which I had established . I am surrounded with positive people, that love me for who I am, and don’t feel affected by my complexion.
Besides,my mum taught me how to let such despicable comments go without being aggrieved. I have learnt to love myself, and if I am ever overwhelmed I’ll talk to my mum. She always encourages me to discuss my challenges and experiences, so that I always did, talking about it.
What role did your mum play for you to actualize your dream?
My mum is my biggest fan. She’s always there for me. She is very affectionate and doting. She’s always there to remind me that I can do anything I set my mind to do, as long as it’s not under the direct Ultra-Violet Rays (UVR) from the sun. My mum always wanted me to live and dream for myself first. She will always tell me love yourself first. My parents gave me the best education and gave me a very comfortable life and for that I am thankful. She will say always ‘Onoms’, believe you can……yes, you can; keep moving.