"I kept my illness a secret."
"None of my friends knew I had leprosy. If a girl gets it, she can never get married."
Bora Alphonsine is 31 years old and tells a serious story about herself, while describing her life in the Congo very vividly. She has not had an easy life, which became especially difficult when she felt her whole future was in danger because of her diagnosis.
"I grew up in the village of Bukenge in the eastern Congo, on the island of Idjwe, the middle of 7 children. I started school, but due to lack of money I had to drop out and couldn't finish upper secondary school. I really wanted to finish my education but we could not afford it. Only one of my brothers had that privilege. Our whole family works in backyard agriculture, growing cassava, tomatoes and beans. We don't keep animals. It's hard work for us, especially since my father can't work. Because of leprosy, his legs are so damaged that he can't use them. He bought a new sewing machine so he can work at home: sewing clothes. He made this dress that I am wearing."
When Bora was 16, spots were discovered on his arms and lips. Because his father also had leprosy, his parents knew the spots were signs of the same disease. They took him to the local hospital and their suspicions were confirmed by the doctor. Six months of medication were started and she had to go to hospital every month.
"I was very scared and worried! First of all, I was afraid that I would be disabled for life, and then I was afraid of the consequences of the disease. I was also worried because a girl with leprosy has no hope of getting married and starting a family. No man would risk marrying a leper, even if he had been treated. So I tried to keep my illness a secret and I didn't even tell my friends what had happened to me. No one could know the truth."
After six months of treatment, Bora was cured and showed no signs of the disease, except that one of his legs had become numb and he had difficulty walking. Bora's life then took an important turn: he was invited to join a committee of volunteers organised by the Congolese Leprosy Federation. One of the organisation's missions is to educate people that leprosy is curable and that they no longer need to fear the disease and its consequences. Bora accepted the invitation and now tells others about leprosy without hesitation or fear. After all, he himself is living proof that everyone can be treated and cured.
"Today I am proud to be healthy without the serious consequences of leprosy." - says Bora, now a mother of three.
She lives alone with her children in a small house and has received help from the Lepramis Mission to start a small business that will help the family survive financial difficulties. He grows beans and cassava around the house, but this does not bring in enough income. The Lepramis Mission has therefore provided additional support in the form of a loan to buy barrels of petrol, which it then sells in smaller quantities. Many of the mopeds and motorbikes on the island need fuel, so Bora sees this as a chance to earn extra money for his family. He uses this extra income to pay for his children's schooling. He is also trained at the Mission to diagnose leprosy cases. For example, when running a shop, he can spot possible signs of leprosy on customers and send them to the hospital for free treatment.
"What I would like most of all is to have the opportunity to study to become a teacher. I am very grateful to the Lepramis Mission and to God for the help I have received. And I also appreciate the opportunity to be a member of the Lepramission Committee. Now I feel accepted by others. I am integrated into the group and the community and I no longer feel excluded."