Melissa Stanford is 14 years old and dreams of becoming a lawyer. The sixth-grade student lives at a residential school run by the Our Lady of Kilimanjaro Sisters in northern Tanzania, where she is at the top of her class and helps the sisters take care of the younger students, some of whom have physical disabilities. She is quiet and polite with strangers and compassionate with the younger children.
She speaks excellent English in addition to Swahili and her tribal language. She knows her pursuit of becoming a lawyer is a challenging path for any female from rural Tanzania.
But Melissa does not look like most Tanzanians. She was born with albinism, a genetic mutation that means the body is unable to produce pigment or melanin in the skin, hair or eyes. For unknown reasons, the condition is 20 times more prevalent in her region of Tanzania than in North America and Europe. And due to a lack of education, it is shrouded in mystery and superstition in Tanzania and surrounding countries, leaving people with albinism particularly vulnerable to attacks.