Lepers’ children at Amanawa Lepers’ settlement in Sokoto
Mohammed Aminu writes about the aspiration of Lepers’ children at Amanawa Lepers’ settlement in Sokoto and the support of Leprosy Mission, a non-governmental organisation to help them actualise their dreams
It is a far distance from Sokoto metropolis. About 30 kilometres away from modern civilisation. They are shunned by the others. They are lepers in their own colony.
At Amanawa Leprosy Hospital housing a population of over 1000 people, there is a different life of the lepers. The lepers at Amanawa live with their children who are not lepers.
“I want to be a medical doctor in the future so that I will be able to treat sick patients in our settlement and cater for my disabled parents and siblings. And that is why I have shown serious commitment to my studies and with the support of the Leprosy Mission of Nigeria, I hope my dream shall come to pass.”
These are the words of a 14- year old boy, Mukhtari Umaru, a JSS 2 student of Government Day Junior Secondary School, Shuni in Dangeshuni local government area of the state. Mukhtari is the son of a leprosy patient at Amanawa Leprosy Hospital, Sokoto that was established by the missionary over eighty years ago.
Mukhtari, just like other children of leprosy patients at the Amanawa settlement, are being supported in their academic pursuits by the Leprosy Mission Sokoto Project. They aspire to be great in life in order to live a better life much more than the squalid existence and abode they are being raised today.
In Amanawa there are three settlements within the vicinity of the Leprosy Hospital with a population of over 1000 people. The Amanawa settlements are inhabited by persons affected by leprosy, who came to the hospital for treatment thirty years ago but decided not to return to their various communities for fear of stigmatisation and social isolation.
Indeed, the missionaries, who were managing the hospital then, allowed the leprosy patients to live within the vicinity of the hospital and as such provided them with farmlands and accommodation within the settlements. Thus, the persons affected by leprosy engaged in farming activities by planting millet, maize and beans as well as rearing of animals for livelihood while the women move from house to house trading household items like plates and wrappers within the settlement and surrounding villages to help their families.
For the lepers, now there is a friend. The Leprosy Mission’s Education Support Scheme is assisting the children of leprosy patients residing in such settlements to be able to go to school so that they would be able to overcome poverty and be in better position to live a meaningful life devoid of begging on the streets.
The intervention of the Leprosy Mission had impacted on the lives of the persons affected by leprosy and their children. In fact, one of the beneficiaries of the Education Support Scheme, Malam Rabiu Yahya is currently married with a job as a staff of Sokoto State Health Management Board. He got the job two years ago, after graduating from School of Health Technology, Gwadabawa. Yahya now supports his leprosy parents and siblings. This was made possible as a result of the support by the Leprosy Mission.
Leprosy has ravaged humanity for several centuries and was recognized in the civilisations of ancient China, Egypt, and India. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that between 2 and 3 million people have been permanently disabled because of leprosy globally. In the last two decades, over 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy.
The age-old social stigma associated with the advanced form of leprosy lingers in many areas, and remains a major obstacle to early treatment. Effective treatment for leprosy appeared in the late 1930s with the introduction of dapsone and its derivatives. Leprosy bacilli resistant to dapsone soon evolved and, due to overuse of dapsone, became widespread. It was not until the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in the early 1980s that the disease could be diagnosed and treated successfully within the community.
Leprosy patients in Sokoto face discrimination and were being stigmatised by the community where they live. They are not accepted and accorded the respect and regard of their peers as a result of their physical deformities.
The Leprosy Mission through its focal officers, had been offering medical assistance to the lepers in Sokoto state. They had trained several persons affected by leprosy on various vocational skills like production of soap, cream, detergent, among others to enable them become self reliant and fend for their families. The Leprosy Mission also provided financial assistance to the lepers to enable them start a small business after they had undergone the vocational programme.
In the last 12 years, the Mission had been offering education support to children of persons affected by leprosy in the state to enable them have sense of belonging and concentrate on their studies. Thus, many beneficiaries of the programme have finished primary education and are now in secondary school while some of the students are currently studying in Sokoto State Polytechnic.
The idea behind the education support scheme of the Leprosy Mission is to empower the children of the leprosy patients to acquire education up to tertiary level so that they could be able to assist their parents when they are through with their studies. Thus, when the children acquire jobs after their studies, they are able to assist their parents, who are predominantly poor.
It was against this backdrop that the Leprosy Mission provided education materials free to the children which include text books, dictionary, calculators, notebooks, bags, sandals, uniform, writing materials among others recently.
Speaking during the presentation of the educational materials to 54 children of leprosy patients at Sani Dingyadi Primary School, Amanawa, Sokoto state, Control Programme Officer of Leprosy Mission in the state, Alhaji Shehu Mohammed Tureta, urged residents of the state to stop stigmatisation against persons affected by leprosy in their communities. He maintained that persons affected by leprosy are human beings who need support of the people rather than discrimination.
Mohammed said the provision of educational materials to 54 children of persons affected by leprosy is part of the Mission’s efforts to assist the less privileged to acquire education. He maintained that the Leprosy Mission provided education support to the children of leprosy patients to enable them become useful to the society.
“We decided to support 54 children of persons affected by leprosy to enable them acquire education. “ We believe that if they acquire training and education, they will be able to support and assist their aged parents, who are deformed,” he said.
He explained that the Leprosy Education Support Scheme was initiated 12 years ago in the state, adding that some of its beneficiaries are currently in tertiary institutions. According to him, the Mission would continue to support the children through primary, secondary and tertiary institution. He emphasized that the Leprosy Mission also embarked on various programmes aimed at enabling leprosy patients in the state feel sense of belonging.
He added that many persons affected by leprosy had been trained on various vocational skills to enable them become self reliant. Mohammed pointed out that some of the beneficiaries now produce creams, detergents, soap among others for sale in the market. He therefore restated the determination of the Mission to continue to assist persons affected by leprosy in the state.
In a remark, the Socioeconomic Development Officer of the Leprosy Mission, Sokoto Project, Mr. Steven Okpanachi, said the provision of educational support to the children of lepers was meant to enable them concentrate in school and become useful to the society. He said beneficiaries of this year’s education support include 24 secondary school students, 28 pupils in primary school and two students in Sokoto State Polytechnic. 0kpanachi expressed happiness with the modest achievements recorded by the programme, saying many children of persons affected by leprosy were able to acquire education through the assistance being provided by the Leprosy Mission.
Also speaking, the Chairman of Dangeshuni local government area in the state, Alhaji Aminu Bodai, expressed gratitude to the Leprosy Mission for the assistance. He appealed to persons affected by leprosy at the Amanawa Leprosy Hospital, to monitor their wards to ensure that they are always in school. Bodai stated that the Education Support Scheme had gone a long way in providing succour to children of lepers, who may not be able to get such materials due to the poor financial state and physical deformity of their parents. He called on well to do individuals to continue to assist the less privileged in the society.
The Chairman, Parents Teachers Association of Sani Dingyadi Primary School, Malam Aliyu Dantasalla, described the donation made by the Leprosy Mission to less privileged children as a right step in the right direction. He appealed to wealthy individuals in the state to support the school, pointing out that most of the pupils at Sani Dingyadi Primary School are children of persons affected by leprosy.
Also speaking, Sokoto State Chairman of Association of persons Affected by Leprosy, Malam Sani Adamu, emphasized that education is the bedrock of development of any society. He commended the Leprosy Mission for providing education support to their children. He pledged the Association’s support to the Mission in order to achieve the desired objectives. “We are indeed grateful to the Leprosy Mission, as the donation has brought succour to our families. This is because when our kids acquire education, they would be in a better position to help us in future,”he said.
Commenting on the gesture, the Village Head of Amanawa, Alhaji Altine Dankiri, also lauded the Mission for the donation made to the children of lepers in the state. He called on parents in the area to send their wards to school to acquire western education. Dankiri harped on the need for residents of the area to send their female children to school, saying this will bring about progress and development in the society. “I am appealing to parents to send their girl-child to school because no society can make progress and attain development by neglecting education. This is based on the fact that girls who go to school become economically empowered in future and are in better position to assist and support their husbands and children, Dankiri stressed.
However, speaking with THISDAY at the Amanawa settlement, the mother of one of the beneficiaries of the education support, Lubabatu Umar expressed happiness for the kind gesture. She disclosed that most of them had been living at the Amanawa settlement since 1970. “I came to the Amanawa Leprosy Hospital 22 years ago but refused to go back to her village because of stigmatization. I really commend the Mission for the education support to my son and I hope after his secondary education, he will go to university and be able to assist us because we are poor,”Lubabatu said.