I went from being a disgruntled leprosy patient to a cheerful woman leader
Written by Sitan Coulibaly, Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer, Voice in Mali
Thanks to an empowerment grant, the project HUMANISATION DES BLANCHIES DE LA LEPRE is implemented by the Fissabililahi Association in the Segou region, 4th region of Mali. The main objective of the project is to promote the inclusion in society of people suffering from leprosy through the empowerment of women patients.
Indeed, the project gives older women the opportunity to express themselves freely, to make their voices heard and to claim their civic participation in order to fight against the marginalization and exclusion they face.
“The difficulties I have faced throughout my life are all caused by this disease. I have been marginalised during twenty-five (25) years in my own family and village.
We are so unwelcome that they even want to get rid of us.
In the village where we are living nowadays, people are asking us to return to our villages of origin on the grounds that we are cured.
We have spent 50 years in this village, fleeing our villages of origin which got rid of us. No one wants to welcome us because of the saliva we produce. Even if our brothers and sisters do accept and welcome us, it is not sure that their families will do the same due to the saliva that bothers people.”
Fissabililahi used to be an informal association that was functioning thanks to donations of people of good will. But as an association, it did not have any specific activity or project to manage.
With the implementation of the Humanisation des personnes blanchies de la lèpre project, many things have changed for the better.
” People did not know where we came from, they just saw us begging in the streets and some even thought that the disease no longer existed in Mali. But thanks to the activities of this project, they got to know us throughout the city of Segou and even beyond, in the whole country.
My participation in the various capacity-building sessions has enabled me to be autonomous, to be able to speak out in public and before the authorities in order to claim our rights.
Nowadays, I am no longer embarrassed to be in the company of people even though I have eyes tearing and a lot of wounds. Better still, despite our health conditions, people come to me and to members of the association, offering us to participate in their activities. This is a victory for me and all of us.
Those who used to run away from us are the ones who now invite us to events. The project has given me the opportunity to express my views about our living conditions to the authorities of the municipality of Ségou, making of me a woman leader who defends the interests of the members of my association. Before that, we had rather the sensation of being exploited.
I have now the feeling that I am a person and not a scum or a burden. When events are organized in the neighbourhood, people tend to let me know and my opinions are taken into account in their organizations, whereas I used to be the last to receive this kind of information in the past.