Good news for leprosy communities in Nigeria

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Luke 4:18-19

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Imad stands among his crops, grown thanks to agricultural training and a new well.

Imad came to live at Ammanawa leprosy community in Sokoto, Nigeria not long after developing symptoms of the disease in 1979. The community has grown up around the local hospital and his neighbours told him it would be the best place for him to go to get help.

Fortunately, completing his course of medication combined with diligent self-care of his hands and feet has meant that Imad, now 67, is free of disability. But even this did not stop people stigmatising him – prejudice against people affected by leprosy in his village was strong, so Imad stayed on at Ammanawa and has been there ever since – marrying, raising a family and farming on land near the hospital.

In this notoriously dry area of northern Nigeria, farming isn’t easy and families like Imad’s have often struggled to grow crops successfully. For an already-marginalised community like Ammanawa, that means greater poverty and uncertainty about having enough food.

This year, however, residents have seen some enormous changes take place, as part of a new project focusing on improving the lives of people living in leprosy communities.

“When I arrived at Ammanawa, I was amazed to see how people’s lives are being transformed,” said Programmes and Advocacy Officer Gareth Shrubsole, who visited Nigeria recently.

“We don’t often hear good news coming out of northern Nigeria and it is challenging place to work in, but in this project I really saw the scripture of Luke 4:18-19 being brought to life.

“The good news is that people are learning to farm their land to grow food and generate an income; those imprisoned by disabilities are getting freedom through provision of wheelchairs, crutches and prosthetic limbs; the blind are recovering their sight through cataract operations.

“What’s more, those who have been oppressed by leprosy stigma are being released as greater awareness is spread about the real causes of leprosy and people affected by it are empowered to speak out against stigma.”

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Imad at his new well.

In addition to learning more about farming, Imad has found his life revolutionised by a new tube well. The result is that, helped by his sons, he’s now growing numerous different crops – an impressive feat on land that is known for being so dry and difficult to farm.

“People like Imad are now benefiting from better hygiene and clean water thanks to new boreholes and latrines too. The Leprosy Mission team working in the area are doing wonderful work and it was a real privilege to be able to see it firsthand,”said Gareth.

“As I talked to Imad, it was wonderful to see the range of crops – fat onions, bright red chillies, sturdy cassava, and many more – that he has been able to nurture in this often barren land. It’s all thanks to the water supply from his new tube-well and his training in farming techniques.”

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Working the land.

It’s all thanks to your support and prayers that people like Imad are acquiring the new skills and resources they need to live life to the full – and it’s a huge encouragement to see the way people living in communities like Ammanawa have seen their lives turned around in the past year.

World Refugee Day – displacement in South Sudan

Today is World Refugee Day and the The UN Refugee Agency has announced that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time since World War II, exceeded 50 million people. Its annual report on the global displacement situation shows that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013 – 6 million more than in 2012.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit.”

Undoubtedly, one of the countries contributing to this dramatic increase is South Sudan, where an estimated 1.3 million people have had to flee their homes as a result of the conflict that began last year. Peace talks in Ethiopia have so far failed to stop the fighting, and numerous ceasefire deals have collapsed. Thanks to our South Sudan appeal, we have been able to provide emergency relief to the leprosy community in Juba. Food, blankets and agricultural tools were distributed to around 500 people.

Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
emergency aid
Displaced persons with disabilities have many additional needs which can make life even more challenging and full of hardship.

But in neighbouring Jonglei State, many residents of the leprosy community of Malek are still living in temporary shelters on an island in the river Nile, displaced from their own homes. At the beginning of February we received the sad news that two women from the village were killed. They were severely disabled and unable to flee their homes with the rest of their community. One of these women has been named as Mary Nydiang Chuck. The village’s chief, Gabriel Maduor, was also shot, but survived.

This month, TLM’s country leader in South Sudan, Yousif Deng, has visited the community – his first visit since the conflict began and accessing Malek became impossible. In the nearby town of Bor, some NGOs are providing healthcare but access to the region is still limited. At the time of his visit, there were concerns about outbreaks of cholera – a major problem for many camps in South Sudan, where disease is rife and sanitation facilities are limited. Most of the population has been displaced, either internally, or to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

“On 4 June, I managed to visit Malek leprosy village. Along the way there we saw burned cars, deserted houses, and burned down homes. There was a huge armed presence and several checkpoints,” Yousif told us.

Of the 38 residents of Malek that we met on a visit in 2013, just 13 now remain the village. Families have been separated as many people are still living on a nearby island across the river Nile. One of the residents we met in 2013 was Rachel Aluong Joh.

“I have lost my son during the crisis. I have not managed to see his grave,” she said.

Rachel went on to tell Yousif about the death of Mary Nydiang Chuck.

“We heard gunshots all over, and some armed men came running into our place. One young man was so angry; all of a sudden he started shooting randomly and it was unfortunate that Mary was shot and died. There were no young men to bury her – we were not able to dig a grave for her’’.

Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.
Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.

Yousif was able to provide some food to the community, but they still have many needs – food, blankets, cooking utensils and fishing nets so they can catch fish from the nearby river. There are no nearby healthcare facilities, and many people require medicines, bandages and dressings for the wounds that can be caused by lack of adequate self-care in people affected by leprosy. We will be providing food aid in the near future, and will continue to support those affected by leprosy as they attempt to rebuild their lives. World Refugee Day is a day to reflect not just on those displaced in South Sudan, but the many people affected by leprosy worldwide whose lives have been made even more challenging and fraught with danger as a result of conflict.

Ann Widdecombe and Peter Waddup pray with a couple in Ethiopia.

Ann Widdecombe’s visit to Ethiopia

Ann Widdecombe and Peter Waddup pray with a couple in Ethiopia.This week, one of our Vice-Presidents has gained new, first-hand insight into the struggles faced by people affected by leprosy. Ann Widdecombe is best known as a retired politician, writer, broadcaster, and contestant on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. But she’s also a committed supporter of our work and has been a Vice-President of The Leprosy Mission since 2006. She’s been spending the week visiting our projects in Ethiopia and talking to some of the people we help about their lives.

Along with Head of Marketing and Communications Rosalyn Palmer and one of our board members, Peter Waddup, Ann has visited the Woreda 1 slum in Addis Ababa, which is situated near the ALERT leprosy hospital. When we visited the community in 2012, we found there were just 150 toilets shared between 24,000 residents, which is why much of our project work there will focus on providing improved sanitation in the form of toilets, showers and water points.

The three-year project will also help people affected by leprosy and other disabilities to start their own businesses, develop employment opportunities, train people in health and hygiene awareness, leprosy awareness and self care.

Pictured above are Ann and Peter praying with Tesfaye and Bayoush, a couple who are benefiting from our work in Addis Ababa.

Peter said: “It has been humbling to represent The Leprosy Mission in Ethiopia and meet those affected by leprosy who, even in these awful living conditions, are marginalised by their own community.

“I am thrilled that Ann has given up a week of her valuable time to raise awareness of the injustices of this world and highlight the difficult job of survival for people affected by leprosy and living in slums.”