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Women's Day - Those who start from a disadvantage

The story of Zawadi

While the war devastated the surrounding countries, the beautiful island of Idjwe in the Congo was spared from the war. However, its population remained poor and no social institutions were built, apart from the only leprosy centre on the island.

Growing up in the most neglected part of the island, Zawadi's life could have gone very badly when, at the age of 6, white patches appeared on her body. The family immediately recognised the signs of leprosy and were saddened to learn that their fate would be that of outcasts, the community's punishment for the sick and their relatives. Zawadi lives with his five brothers and sisters in a poor house built of sun-dried bricks and tin roofs, without any "luxuries" such as bathrooms and toilets. The family members cook their daily rice, ugali and potatoes in the courtyard.

The girl received relatively quick access to treatment for leprosy, which involves a long-term course of antibiotics. The Lepramism Society has supported Zawadi's studies, and she has now completed six years of schooling. "I am doing well in school and I love learning," says Zawadi. Her dream is to become a teacher or start her own business. She is a member of the Leprosy Mission's group of volunteers and helps leprosy patients on the island to become self-sufficient by educating their children. A particularly important mission is to support pregnant women with leprosy who are ostracised and are often abandoned by their spouses and are among the most vulnerable.

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