Don’t judge something by its appearances because judging prohibits understanding. While thinking about that subject, please fasten your seat belts, as we are about to take off.

Tlamelo is a 19-year-old female with albinism. She was born and bred in the streets and living there meant living under the open sky. She passed the nights by staying on footpaths, railway stations, bridges and bus stands. Living under these circumstances, Tlamelo was deprived of appropriate health care and nutrition.

Growing up she spotted kids her age going to school and out of curiosity; she dodged her mom and followed them despite how dirty and smelly she was. She had blisters on the soles of her feet so she could barely walk but she tried. Sweat enveloped her like a cloud; she had a nasty limp. Her clothes were old and moth eaten.

Her arrival at school did not go as well as she thought it would. Dirt fell from her pale skin like a thick crust and people choked on her decaying scent. She was given hateful looks and taunted by her peers to go back to where she belonged. They said she made them sick. This was very difficult for her, but she continued to secretly sneak into the school despite being bullied.

She had no friends and even when she tried to fit in they always pushed her away. But she had a burning desire within her that pushed her to keep on going to school. Throughout her school years there was one boy in particular who made Tlamelo feel inferior in every way he knew how. He would throw stuff at her constantly, flick her on the head, punch her, wipe whatever he picked out of his nose on her head and call her “ugly” or “stupid”. He mocked her and told her he would beat her if she ever fought back. Making her unhappy was his daily mission.

In high school during her matric year, Tlamelo was hunted like a cold-blooded animal. She was ostracized and threatened because people pushed the belief that albino body parts brought one wealth and luck. The feelings of fear were not enough to stop her from attending school, but she was forced to flee to safety every night on the streets.

Tlamelo knew that education was the only way out of her possibly bleak future. She also realised that whining about her daily struggles was not going to propel her forward if she didn’t risk it all. As a street kid her life was not an easy breeze but she always found a way.

People with albinism have eyesight problems due to lack of melanin pigment in the retina. But Tlamelo defied all odds and achieved seven distinctions in her matric exams, even when all the odds were against her. Most of the time she studied by streetlight – it was living in these conditions that pushed her to excel.

It is true that opportunity dances with those on the dance floor. Tlamelo obtained four bursaries and this was the start of alleviating poverty from her life. She later proudly went back to the streets in search of her mother and was fortunate enough to find her.

Her mother had read a newspaper article about her daughter the day before they met. When she saw her daughter a single tear slid down face, from her butterscotch eyes, followed by another one until soon a steady stream of salty tears flowed. These tears released her sadness and sorrow that she had been holding inside all along.

Salty fluid dripped over her small cracked lips when Tlamelo told her that she had enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand, where she would be studying towards her degree in Medicine. The lesson from this story is: don’t judge a book by its cover because that book might just be a page-turner.