Tanzanian Woman With Albinism Gets New Arms

After horrible attack, Mariamu Staford takes steps to regain her independence.

ByABC News
August 27, 2010, 5:55 PM

FAIRFAX, Va., Aug. 27, 2010 — -- On a cold winter evening, a soft-spoken, 28-year-old single mother from rural Tanzania stepped off a plane at Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C., with high hopes. The goal of her trip: a shot at life.

It was 28-year-old Mariamu Staford's first time outside of Tanzania; but as she approached customs, an agent wouldn't let her through, claiming she refused to be fingerprinted. It wasn't that she wouldn't, but that she couldn't.

A year ago, both of Staford's arms were chopped off -- part of a brutal campaign of death in her native country. Men armed with machetes stormed Staford's hut while she was sleeping, she told ABC News, and began cutting at her arms in a gruesome attempt to amputate them.

Click here to find out how to help Tanzanians with albinism

Persons with albinism, like Staford, are being hunted down and murdered; their bodies sold on the black market and used in witchdoctor potions, all because of a superstitious belief that the limbs of albinos possess special powers. Nearly 60 albinos have been murdered in the last three years.

The attack rendered Staford an invalid. Unable to feed or clothe herself, or care for her young son, she yearned for independence.

"I'm a grown person, but I can't do anything," she told "20/20." "I used to be able to rely on myself, but now my mother must tend to my every need."

Staford thought her future was bleak. After meeting her last year, "20/20" helped mobilize a group of volunteers, who affectionately became known as "Team Mariamu," to bring Staford to the U.S. Leading the team was Vicky Ntetema, a Tanzanian journalist-turned-advocate, who bravely first exposed Staford's tragedy.

Eventually, a customs manager, who saw "20/20's" initial report about the grotesque phenomenon of albino killings, allowed Staford into the country.

Staford's first stop was an appointment with Elliot Weintrob, the president of the Orthotic Prosthetic Center in Virginia, who would build a custom set of prosthetic limbs for Staford -- free of charge.

"You can't turn the other way when you see something like [Staford's gruesome attack]. You got to say, 'What can I do here to help?'" Weintrob said. "I don't think I had a choice. I see and hear a lot of things, but this went right to the top."