“We are an Asian and the world’s largest albino family – the abuse we have endured has been unbearable”


As I brushed my light blonde hair, I looked up at my mother, Shameem, now 65, with tears in my eyes. Another kid had been yelling racial slurs at me on the street, and the bullying was really starting to affect my self-esteem.

“Just ignore them,” my mother reassured me. “Your comments should go in one ear and out the other. Don’t take it to heart and don’t argue, you’ll only make things worse.”

As I got older, it became more difficult to remain calm when vile insults were being hurled at me and my family. Growing up in Coventry, West Midlands in the 1980s, I had always felt different. My family and I not only faced discrimination because we were Asian – we were also the only family with albinism.

Albinism is an inherited condition that causes someone to have less melanin than usual and therefore have very light skin, hair and eyes. We are a big family – I am the eldest and have five younger siblings, Ghulam, 40, Haider, 38, Muqadas, 36, Musarat, 30, and Mohammed, 27.

All six of us and my parents, Aslam, 64, and Shameem, 65, have albinism. My mother’s sister, my father’s brother and some of my cousins ​​also have this condition. This means our hair is very light blonde or white and our skin tone is incredibly light compared to some of our other Asian relatives.

Naseem with her children


Naseem Akhtar / SWNS)

About one in 17,000 people in the UK suffer from albinism. Growing up it was always incredibly hard to be the only albino family.

We weren’t accepted anywhere – the English used to abuse us and we were discriminated against by the Asian community in the mosque for being different. I struggled to find my place in the world – I didn’t fit in anywhere and it affected my identity and self-esteem.

Not only was I struggling with my looks and self-esteem, but also with my increasingly deteriorating eyesight. It’s a lesser known symptom of albinism – the color of my skin was the least of my concerns.

Aside from being short-sighted, my fair skin means I have to be very careful in the sun as I’m at a much higher risk of sunstroke and skin cancer. As a result, my childhood was very limited – I didn’t have the freedom to enjoy myself like most children do.

Growing up, Naseem felt like she didn’t belong


Naseem Akhtar / SWNS)

As a teenager I took on a very protective and motherly role towards my brothers and sisters. My mother couldn’t speak English and couldn’t read to us, so I was her translator and took on a lot of responsibility in raising my siblings. One night my brothers Ghulam and Haider came home with black eyes. They had clearly been involved in another fight.

“What happened on Earth?” I said as I tended to her wounds.

“Some local boys were yelling at us again and making rabbit noises,” Ghulam said. Children would often compare us to albino animals like white rabbits.

“We’ve had enough of it,” said Haider.

Watching my siblings suffer was always very hard.

“I know,” I said. “But you have to be careful. You know they’re just idiots anyway.” I kissed them both on the cheek.

find my own way

No matter how bad it got, I could always take comfort in knowing that we had each other—us against the world. But the older I got, the harder it became to stay calm and not fight back. My parents’ fears about their own albinism rubbed off on us and made life very difficult.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to follow my parents’ strict Muslim rules and plans for my future. At 18 I decided I wanted something different with my life. My cultural ties held me back and I disagreed with some of my extended family’s opinions.

In 1997 I separated from my family and decided to go my own way – an education. It was frightening. I always had my siblings’ safety net.

With them I felt normal as we were all the same. Separating from family would be difficult for anyone – but I had to do it with my visual impairment and all the discrimination I faced as an Asian albino. So I decided to join a support group for the visually impaired.

Naseem as a little girl with her parents, aunt and cousins


Naseem Akhtar / SWNS)

I’ve made many wonderful friends who have taught me so much… but there was one person who really impressed me – my now husband Richard, 50. His brilliant mind and upbeat outlook on life was such a breath of fresh air to me. His visual impairment was similar to mine and we just clicked in a way I’ve never had with anyone before.

We started out as friends, but I liked him from the start. It used to be “You’d be pretty if you weren’t an albino” – I was a bit shy at first because I didn’t have confidence. But Richard never treated me any differently, and his kindness and love for me helped me heal the traumas of my past.

We have now been married 14 years and have three children – Dylan, 12, Oliver, 10, and Grace, six. Becoming a mother was something I feared would never happen to me, but it is the joy of my life and my children are everything to me. None of them have albinism or visual impairments, although the condition is hereditary. They are happy, healthy children.

For so long I didn’t know where I belonged, but now it’s absolutely clear. I’m one of them – being their mother is the best job in the world, although I love my actual job as an NHS rehabilitation officer.

Being a visually impaired parent comes with its challenges, but Richard and I make a great team and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We have to think outside the box, but I’ve always believed that you don’t need sight as long as you follow your instincts and do everything with love.

Mohammed with his little son


Naseem Akhtar / SWNS)

Ghulam with his little boy


Naseem Akhtar / SWNS)

Thanks to my husband, my children and a lot of counseling and CBT, I started to build my self-esteem and now feel a lot more confident and resilient as a person. My old life felt like a distant memory.

Then one day in April 2020 I got a call.

“Hello Naseem,” said the voice. I recognized it immediately – it was my brother Ghulam.

“Hi,” I said shakily. “My goodness, how are you?”

Broke a world record

He called to check we were all okay as we had been told to shield ourselves due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was wonderful to hear from him.

Slowly but surely I started talking to more of my family. Bridges were built, and at a time when the world was so uncertain, it was nice to have the trusted support of my family again. Once again it felt like we were competing against the world.

We can form a relationship with one another through our shared experience, and that is a special bond that will never be broken. We even broke the world record for most siblings with albinism in October 2021 – and are now in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Despite all the bullying and hardship we grew up with, it’s all worth it to now be recognized as a record breaker and finally be reunited.

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