Getting a village back on its feet

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Antonio, with wife Gabrielle, can work again and is now in charge of his local self-care group. Photo: Paul Salmon

Last summer, during the Feet First campaign, we introduced you to Antonio Habibu from Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique. After contracting leprosy when he was just a child, he lost all feeling in his hands and feet. This meant it became very easy for him to injure himself, particularly while working in the fields or cooking over an open fire. The ulcers he developed became infected and eventually, Antonio lost his toes. When we met him last year, he was only able to walk short distances, using crutches. He was no longer able to work and struggled to see his wife, Gabrielle, work so hard on her own.

So when Antonio received his first pair of protective sandals last autumn, he was delighted. Thanks to his new footwear, he found he was able to work again and his mobility was improved. He still needs to walk with a stick but crucially, the sandals protect his feet from further injury. He and others were provided with footwear thanks to your generosity in responding to Feet First, where every donation was matched by the UK Government and the impact of these gifts on the lives of people in Mozambique has been immeasurable.

“The sandals helped a lot and have made working in the fields much easier,” said Antonio, who is a village elder and also in charge of monitoring his local self-care group, where members meet regularly to help each other keep leprosy-affected hands and feet safe and injury-free.

Recently, we became aware that a year’s wear and tear on Antonio’s sandals had left him in need of a fresh pair. So on a visit to Nancaramo, The Leprosy Mission Mozambique’s Country Leader, Dr Arie de Kruijff, brought with him more pairs of sandals and shoes for people to try on.

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Antonio tries on shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

“Gripping the sandals because of the way my feet are can be difficult, so these shoes are much more comfortable,” Antonio said as he tried on a pair.

As two women came forward to choose shoes of their own, he said: “Some people can work without shoes. But these two would not be able to work on the farm without them.”

One of the women, 61-year-old Mariana, was so delighted with her new shoes that she danced an impromptu jig for the group.

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Mariana was also delighted with a new pair of shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

Your support for Feet First has meant we’ve been able to identify many more people who need care and provide them with shoes and self-care training. By safeguarding them from further injury and disability, you’re helping them get back on their feet – literally and metaphorically.

During his visit, Dr Arie spotted a boy called Manuel, who appeared to have white patches on his face. He immediately examined Manuel to check whether the white patches were the first signs of leprosy.

He called to Antonio, who said: “Yes, we too spotted the white patches on the child’s face, and two members of the footcare group are looking into it.”

“That is what it’s all about, making people aware that they should react as soon as they detect any signs of the disease,” said Dr Arie. “It’s very heartening to see that the self-care group is doing exactly what we hoped it would do. It’s great that they are learning and it’s really encouraging to see the community being vigilant.”

While the difference made by a new pair of shoes is obvious and immediate, the long-term impact of the training and support offered through the self-care groups is equally important and means that more people like Manuel will be diagnosed and cured of leprosy as soon as possible.

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Dr Arie de Kruijff examines Manuel, a boy with skin patches that could indicate leprosy. Photo: Paul Salmon.

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