Tindi Mashamba and Bibiana Mashamba were born with albinism, a rare genetic condition. In their African homeland, their white skin made them prey. Witch doctors pay for body parts and promote the belief that the limbs of albino children hold magical powers.
At age 9, Bibiana's leg and two of her fingers were cut off and sold.
"In our country, albinos, we are not safe," said Bibiana, now 17. "People are hunting for body parts."
For that reason, the sisters turned to the law school at USC for help as their tourist visas were expiring. They received help from the Los Angeles-based African Millennium Foundation and the Orthopedic Institute for Children, which provided therapy for Bibiana and a new prosthesis.
But the teens' constant worry was the possibility of having to return to Tanzania.
"Spell of the Albino," an award-winning documentary produced by Claudio von Planta, chronicles the violence. One assailant cut off the fingers of a child named Adam, with the permission of the boy's father. Investigators believe the dad allowed the attack because he was driven by poverty.
When a group of USC law students heard the Mashamba sisters' plea to stay in the U.S., the aspiring attorneys filed reams of documents. The sisters recently received a letter approving their petition for asylum. Wednesday at the law school, the teens exchanged celebratory hugs with those who worked on their case.
"We are going to court. We are helping people in community and we are providing real-world experience to our students," said USC's Jean Reisz, the law students' mentor.
"It's rewarding, to not only learn the law but make a profound difference in someone's life," said second-year law student Elena Babakhanyan.
The Mashamba sisters' faces radiated with joyful smiles.
"I am happy to stay here without fear," said Bibiana.
After being granted asylum, the sisters have made a pledge: to fight the ignorance that breeds such violence against children, and to return to Tanzania to help others after receiving an education in the U.S.