Tackling leprosy in Tigray

Shoga Redae and Adanech Bezaberhe are two women whose lives were changed by the Tigray branch of the Ethiopian National Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy (ENAPAL), an association supported by the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP).

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Beneficiary involved in income generating activity (Photo by Michael Tsegaye (CSSP))

Shoga and Adanech are just two of an estimated 5,000 people diagnosed with leprosy each year in Ethiopia[1]. Leprosy is still treated with suspicion in Ethiopia, with few medical professionals trained in diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Negative social attitudes mean that leprosy sufferers are often excluded from the labour market and many migrate to urban centres and become beggars.

ENAPAL’s approach to improving the lives of leprosy sufferers

ENAPAL’s project sought to improve the rights, confidence, social status and economic opportunities of leprosy sufferers in Neqsege, a small town in Tigray region.

‘I didn’t have any information about the disease before,’ says Shoga. ‘When I was ill I took Holy water. All my family, parents and community ignored me. They considered the disease as a sin given to me from God. I was unable to cure the disease and after about five years it made me physically disabled.’  It was when her husband died that times got especially hard for Shoga and her two young sons. ‘My family became very poor. I lacked resources to feed myself and my children. I was excluded from community events because of my disease – it was impossible to marry again. I felt like I was beneath everybody, that I was inferior.’

Adanech, a mother of three, faced similar challenges. ‘When the disease started it made me abnormally fat, then after a few months the disease disabled my finger,’ she says. ‘At that time I lived in a remote rural area where access to healthcare was difficult to get and I remained at my home without any treatment. However, my husband, family and neighbours started to behave differently towards me. This change amazed me – I gradually felt hopeless and started hating myself,’ recalls Adanech. ‘I decided to run away to Mekele town where I didn’t know anybody. I had to escape the social discrimination and my confused emotions. I didn’t have a skill, money or knowledge to rely on so I was forced to beg in town. I cried a lot every day. I hated myself and even my baby who at that time needed my care more than ever.’

Adanech and Shoga discovered ENAPAL when they went to hospital for treatment.  At the hospital they heard about the leprosy project. ‘I heard of the project for the first time at a group meeting conducted by ENAPAL, remembers Shoga. ‘I registered my interest in working together with my friends who are also affected by leprosy,’ she recalls. The project aims to improve treatment for people affected by leprosy, to undertake community outreach activities to challenge negative public perceptions of leprosy, and provide training and small-business start-up loans for vulnerable leprosy sufferers to improve their livelihoods. Central to the project was the creation of micro-enterprises and co-operatives based around poultry and dairy farming.

Creating micro-enterprises and co-operatives

Fifty women with leprosy were involved in the dairy farming co-operative, including Adanech and Shoga. ‘First I contributed 200 Birr (€9) to be a member,’ explains Adanech. ‘Then I received training on the working of a dairy farm,’ she adds. ‘We took training for about five days on how to manage a dairy farm and we were given five lactating cows,’ Shoga adds. ‘We searched and prepared the feed of the animals together,’ notes Adanech. ‘We produce milk and butter, sell it at market and distribute the profit to each member of the co-operative after calculating the income and expenditure of the association.’

‘We also use also the products for ourselves, especially during festivals,’ Shoga says. The co-operative members have faced many challenges in learning a new trade and setting up a viable dairy business yet the benefits have been tangible.

‘I now have a regular income from the dairy farm,’ Shoga says. As a result of the project she explains that she has educated her three children at a private school, improved her overall standard of living, bought a television, a new bed and carpets for her house. She has received new business skills helping her generate an income.

Adanech agrees. She now receives a regular income of more than 500 Birr (€22) a month. This allows her to buy her education materials for her children, pay school fees and buy uniforms without any external support. In addition, she saves 50 Birr (€2) every month and has already saved 3000 Birr (€132). Before the project she had no savings at all. ‘This is great change to me because I was a beggar before,’ she exclaims.

The project also provides micro-credit for co-operative members to support their own initiatives. Members can borrow up to 10,000 Birr (€439) to support and develop their businesses.

The benefits to Adanech and Shoga stretch beyond economics, however. ‘The project has also educated us to take health check-ups on time,’ says Shoga. ‘The bonds with our friends in the co-operative strengthen all the time, and we constantly support each other.’  Perhaps the greatest achievement of the project has been the change in the attitude of the community and the affect this has had on the women’s self-confidence. As Shoga explains, ‘the community appreciate me for the effort I have made at self-sustaining my life and family. I am now a full of hope for the future, to develop my self-esteem and invest in my children with confidence.’

[1] http://leprosymission.org/

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