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November 19, 2007

Kanhu comes out of the darkness

Kanhu Raka is a 9 year old girl who has only now begun to see the light of day. Today, she doesn’t want to even hear about going back to living in the dark. The light began to shine for this young native Kamayurá, help us to keep it lit.

The Kamaiurá don’t accept children that have any type of physical or mental disability. Usually, babies who are born with deficiencies are buried soon after birth. When the problems develops later, as in Kanhu’s case, the child escapes from being sacrificed, but ends up being a victim of what is called “social death”. Kangu escaped from being buried alive, but ended up living as a recluse, in a dark pod that had been improvised inside the hut, lined with blankets and nets. She grew up without being able to play in the village with the other children, hidden and set apart from the suspicious looks of the community. Little by little, her condition got worse and she lost her ability to walk. Her feet and hands were wasting away and she was suffering from pain all over her body.

Kanhu Raka was born in the Xingu National Indigenous Reserve. She was Makaw and Maitsuwy’s first daughter, and the tribal chief’s granddaughter. She went through all of the traditional rituals and was treated with a lot of affection by all of her relatives in the community.

The family’s concern only arrived later on, when Kanhu was about four years old. She started to feel weak in her legs and fell down frequently. The family took her to the village’s health centre, but nobody could diagnose the problem. The situation got worse and worse, until Kanhu couldn’t stand up anymore and had to be carried around by her parents. At this time, the community’s prejudice began to show.

Kotok Kamayurá, Kanhu’s grandfather, sought help from an ATINI group who had visited the village during the Kwaryp ritual. I remember when we entered in to the hut and were taken to the “pod” where Kanhu was being kept as a recluse. The place was so dark, that our only contact with her was through touch. The following day, we returned there with a flashlight, and we were able to see her beautiful smiley face. The family were going through a very tough time and asked us for help.

We took Kanhu to have some tests in the Genoma Institute, at the São Paulo University, and the diagnosis was clear – Progressive Limb-girdle Muscular Dystrophy. An incurable and debilitating disease. Kanhu’s family decided to not return to the village with her but try some type of treatment to better her quality of life. ATINI provided a house, food and accompaniment for Kanhu and her family. Today, three months later, Kanhu looks like another child. She’s joyful; she can’t wait to have her physiotherapy (three sessions every day!), or to study and play with other children. Little by little, she’s recovering from the damage caused by her long period of isolation – she’s not feeling anymore pain and is able to walk short distances! ATINI is having talks together with the Kamayurá seeking the possibility of Kanhu’s reintegration into the community. In the mean time, the family has decided to remain in Brasilia, where Kanhu can be treated and grow up with freedom.

Kanhu needs a wheelchair to get around and orthoses (foot/ankle supports) to avoid the atrophy of her feet. Her family needs food and clothes. Her and her sisters need school materials. Make a donation this Christmas. Help Kanhu, who doesn’t want to even think about going back to living in the dark! The light has started to shine for this little native girl, help us to keep it lit.

Uma voz pela vida

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