Liberia: Bong County’s Leper Colony in Dire Need, Seeks Gov’t & Philanthropists Intervention
Suakoko – At the Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Bong County, which has one of the worsening conditions of life in the country, lepers are struggling to hold on to an already devasting life.
Over 600 people – lepers and non-lepers – living in the community have received little or no help for the past three years.
The Center, otherwise knows as the Leprosy colony, was set up in 1955 for those who were unable to overcome the fear and stigmatization of a disease which in most cases deforms its patients.
These patients were taken away from their husbands or wives and or children when the relationship became unbearable because of their health condition.
Before the Liberian civil war, these patients were fed, clothed and treated on a regular basis by a Canadian charity until the civil war forced the charity to close down and leave the country.
Since then, some goodwill individuals, humanitarian organizations including churches have struggled to fill the void. Support has been scanty and inconsitent.
Now, the lepers are complaining about government’s apparent insensitivity to their plight, while there remains no visible signs of possible assistance from the government.
Earlier this year, some of them were forced to leave the center to embark on street-begging.
The Administrator of the center Justin J. Togbah told LocalVoicesLiberia that it is time that the “world to hear our plight”.
According to Togbah, who was appointed by the colony in 1990 as administrator in order to flag their plights, he doesn’t receive salary for his services to the community and people.
“Because we are no longer getting assistance from friends, churches and organizations our conditions are becoming unbearable and we need assistance very urgently,” he said.
“We are suffering, our people are encountering strange diseases, diarrhoea from creeks which we used to fetched water for drinking and cooking all because two of the three hand pumps we have here is damage.”
He further underscored the urgent need to rehabilitate the damaged hand pumps, saying some lepers now fetch water from nearby creeks.
Henry Flomo, a resident of the colony said since the hand pumps got damaged about a year ago, there have been several cases of cholera, diarrhea and several others waterborne diseases.
“Whenever we and our children drink from these running creeks, we get sick and at time you will see child vomiting and toileting fast fast,” Flomo said.
School Kids Rejected
At the same time, many school-going children in the area who are not infected with the disease are being rejected by schools. They are shunned and despised because they live in the colony.
There are currently over 150 children in the area who are out of school, said Mr. Togbah, who also serves as principal of the school.
He said “just to provide eductaion for the children,” they have turned a delipidated building bulit in the 1960s as a feeding hall into a makeshift school.
But there’s lack of sitting capacities for the pupils while the building roof is leaking, and lack of supplies by the Ministry of Education remain some of the enormous challenges impacting the school.
Several pupils have dropped out and have turned to farming.
Jonathan Brown, a laper who is also a father of five, said “without education l know my children and I will not make it in life because education is the bear rock to success”.
Brown believes when his children are educated they will not forget the community in the future. But his hope of educating his children are fading as the only school in the community remains in tatters.
Matthew Willie, another patient, wants President George Manneh Weah, humanitarian organizations and individuals to provide scholarship and textbooks to enhance the education of children residing in the area.
“We are only begging the president of this country and well meaning citizens of this county, churches and others organizations to please come to our cries because our children are our hope in life, Mr President please do something for us and our children,” Willie pleaded.
Relying on Farming
Despite their appalling health, many of them are compel to engage in small scale farming in order to earn a livelihood while they keep their eyes on the road for help.
During the farming season in the country, some residents of nearby towns help to farm for lepers who are very old and are unable to farm.
Many of the lepers are old folks, who either feet or hands are stubbed. Some have lose their toes or fingers.
However, some of them are still attempting to weave baskets from palm leaves, which they do as a source of livilihood since they have also been abandoned by their families and friends.
Nyanpu Flomo, another leprosy patients, says: “I have been in this camp for more than 20 years and have undergone treatment but because of my disability my relatives have abandoned me and don’t even care for me all because I am a leper.”
Ma Flomo, whose fingers and toes have been deformed because of the disease, sees the camp is her only home.
“I cannot go anywhere; my people in my village are not willing to accept me.”
What is Leprosy?
Leprosy carries along with it extreme stigmatization. Leprosy leaves an infected person disfigured if not treated. Patient are feared and shunned by their relatives and communities.
Also known as Hansen’s disease, it is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes.
The disease is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age but is curable and early treatment averts most disabilities.
Editor’s Note: This story is a production of LocalVoicesLiberia, a network of Liberian journalists working in the 15 counties. LVL reports issues and stories about rural communities that are underreported.