HALFWAY into the film “Can You See Us?,” many of us have found ourselves cutting onions, evoked by the emotional tale of a boy born with albinism.
The 1-hour, 49-minute Netflix movie, inspired by the true life of John Chiti, a renowned musician, spotlights the life of Joseph, a boy who is rejected at birth by his father for being born with albinism.
He spent his childhood navigating life’s hurdles, being bullied at school by his peers. Others called him “mwabi,” a local Zambian name used to denote persons with albinism, even though oftentimes it is used as a derogatory term to bully people with this condition.
The movie, which is making waves at local and global scenes, is written by Lawrence Thompson to depict the real-life scenarios of what people living with albinism go through in Zambia.
While some people perceive the character of Joseph in this film as mere acting, many people with albinism and those around them can relate to the challenges that people with albinism go through in life, as was the story of John Chiti.
John Chiti, popularly known for his hit song “Ngoleya,” was born in a family of six children. Being the firstborn and the only child with albinism in his family, John grew up with the curiosity of learning more about his condition.
Sitting in the comfort of his office at Passports Building along Cairo Road, Chiti, who is now a civilian Zambia Police Service Commissioner, shares how chaotic life was as a child with albinism.
He shares how difficult it was for him to get accepted by the community as people back in the day had little or no knowledge about albinism.
“Often times, I was bullied and discriminated against in school and in my community. I was called ‘mwabi,’ and this pushed me into moving between schools looking for acceptance,” he narrates.
Even though his parents had little information about his condition, Mr. Chiti was curious to find out why his skin was different from his siblings.
He then went on to research more about it, and the more he researched, the more confident he became. He saw this as an opportunity to defy all odds.
“I remember reaching a place where I no longer cared what people called me. It didn’t matter whether people called me a ‘mwabi’ or spat saliva when they saw me. I was headed for the top; I was going to become a musician,” he recounts.
Today, Chiti is living his dream. He is a man of many hats, serving in different portfolios. But above all, he is a human rights activist, advocating for the rights of people with albinism.
The true-life story of Chiti, as depicted by the character of little Joseph in the movie “Can You See Us?”, is a true reflection of what children with albinism go through in Zambia, especially in rural communities.
While some might be fortunate to navigate through life’s challenges, many still face the trauma of being born with albinism.
Albinism is a genetic condition that is characterized by the absence of melanin in the hair, skin, and eyes, sometimes accompanied by visual impairment.
Zambia has nearly 30,000 people with albinism, with an estimated at least 10 people killed annually, according to information revealed by the Albinism Foundation of Zambia.
Although the information is scanty on how many of these killings involve children, Zambia has, in the last three years, recorded an increase in children either being attacked, harmed, or having their rights violated. The recent case of attempted abductions on a family with three children with albinism in Lundazi District is a testament to this.
The attack happened in Kamilenje village when the intruders broke into the house at night, leaving the father with a deep cut on his head as he had tried to protect his three children from the intruders.
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NOTE: While the facts of the story are real and true, we anonymized some of the children and adults we interviewed and featured in this story for ethical reasons.