Jacob is 54 years old and Chief of a leprosy community in Niger State, Nigeria.
He was born in a village in Sokoto State, the youngest of five children with four older sisters. His parents were farmers and he did not go to school but grew up helping on the farm. At age 15 Jacob noticed patches on his face but did not know what they were. He saw a traditional healer and was given herbs. These helped for a while but then the problem came back even worse than before. His parents told him he must have leprosy and Jacob was worried and became more withdrawn. He had been good at wrestling, often winning local championships, but when the other boys he wrestled with found out he had leprosy they abandoned him so he just stayed at home, only going out to help his parents on the farm. Even his own sisters (who were married) kept away from him.
In his twenties Jacob went to Ammanawa leprosy hospital in Sokoto and they referred him to Chanchaga which was the first hospital in Nigeria to offer the new multi-drug therapy (MDT) treatment. When he was 27 (around 1990) he came to Chanchaga and the health worker there received him warmly into the ward and treated him well. After so many years of loneliness and unhappiness, Jacob was very happy to be among others with similar signs and symptoms to him and in a place with staff who reassured him.
Before taking MDT, he had been very weak, but taking MDT restored Jacob’s energy and strength. He’d had bad ulcers on his feet but in Chanchaga he joined a self-care group and learned to take care of his feet. After three months in the ward he was discharged and another discharged patient invited him to stay with him in Chanchaga leprosy community. Jacob met his wife, Fatima, in this community, started farming again and they had two children.
The major challenges Jacob and his wife face are in accessing resources for their farm – seeds and fertiliser. Also, as they age they want to mechanise their farming more with tools like water pumps to reduce the hard labour. The other major challenge is the lack of opportunities for their children, especially after primary school. Jacob told us they used to face discrimination when selling their farm produce outside the community, but they have now overcome that problem through increased awareness.
Jacob became Chief by being nominated by the village Elders, who did so because he is a peaceful man and good at mediating conflicts, which makes him much respected. His aim as Chief is to work with others to ensure inclusion for socio-economic development so that all are able to benefit from government interventions. He also wants to see the youth become highly productive in their daily endeavours.
The achievements the community has made through partnership with The Leprosy Mission are enormous. Jacob is very happy and appreciative – TLM has helped build the school, bring water and electricity, hospital support for quality services, advocacy training, leadership training, improved farming techniques and entrepreneurship, sanitation, latrines and boreholes. He expressed sincere thanks for all these.
Now Jacob’s family visits him at Chanchaga and his mother, now deceased, was pleased that he had been treated and would have been proud of him becoming Chief. Sometimes he goes back to Sokoto – these days they don’t discriminate against him there; they are more sad for him about what happened, perhaps feeling ashamed of how they treated him all those years ago.
Jacob’s name has been changed.