After attacks, Tanzanian children with albinism receive prosthetics

NEW YORK -- When you hear Kabula Nkarango Masanja's story, the idea that she could smile seems unimaginable.

"In 2010, I was sleeping with my mom," Kabula said. "To the room, two men came inside."

The 17-year-old girl from Tanzania lost her right arm five years ago. She was hunted in her homeland by human poachers for her albinism - a condition that leaves her with little to no pigment in her skin, eyes and hair.

Hunters killing albino children for limbs

She said the two men attacked her with a machete, cutting off her entire arm.

"They kept it," she said.

In Tanzania, albino body parts can sell for thousands of dollars on the black market. It's believed - by some - the parts hold supernatural powers and can be used in potions to bring good luck and wealth to the consumer.

Between 2000 and 2014, the United Nations reported that the country had seen more than 150 cases of attacks on people with albinism.

Elissa Montanti runs the Global Medical Relief Fund, a nonprofit she founded in Staten Island 17 years ago to help kids injured by war or natural disasters receive prosthetics. Her organization was featured on "60 Minutes" in 2011.

"I have never, never experienced anything like this before," Montanti said. "I've seen kids that have kicked a can and it exploded, dangled from a tree in Indonesia from the tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti. But this is something unimaginable."

Earlier this year, Montanti read of an attack on 5-year-old Baraka Cosmas Lusambo. Men broke into his family's home in March while he was asleep.

"They hit my mother twice on her head," Baraka said in Swahili, through a translator. "Then they came to me. They cut off my hand."

Global Medical Relief's mission

Montanti brought Baraka, Kabula and three other children to the United States from Tanzania in June to receive prosthetics. The five children received their prosthetics at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

"I feel good because it is going to help me in many different areas, which I cannot do with one hand," Kabula said.

"They will be able to grasp to pick up a pen, to write, to pick up a fork and eat," Montanti said. "This will definitely make them feel more whole, give them a sense of empowerment."

When they return home, they will be sheltered in safe houses run by Under the Same Sun - a Canadian organization that protects people with albinism in Tanzania.

Montanti plans to bring the children back to the United States as they grow to get their prosthetics refitted.

"There will be lots of tears, but I know I'm going to see them again," Montanti said.

Broadcast associate Matthew Kwiecinski contributed to this report.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.