Josiane lives with her mother Josephine in a little grass hut with a beautiful view of the hills near Bukavu, Eastern Congo. She welcomes us with a smile and our visit creates quite a stir among the neighbours. They don’t get visitors here very often.
“I was born in 1970 on this hill,” Josiane tells us. “There was never any talk about my going to school when I was a little girl but I was expected to help with the housework. When I was 17 I started to get spots on my skin and I wondered what that could be.” The spots were numb, and Josiane soon discovered that her hands and feet were affected. She also got grave ulcers. She went to two different hospitals but didn’t receive any help.
“Six years ago I finally got help and received surgical treatment for my ulcers,” she continues. “However, my hands are not okay, several fingers are damaged, and my toes have disappeared.”
At first, Josiane experienced stigma from her community. “When the signs of leprosy became visible, my neighbours disappeared. Nobody said hello to me and they avoided meeting me.” Thanks to the visits and awareness raising campaigns of TLM Congo however, Josiane and her mother are now accepted in the village and no longer shunned by their neighbours. “They even bring their children for me to look after, when they are out in the fields working. This child belongs to a neighbour,” Josiane says, pointing to a little child asleep on the floor. “Now my neighbours have learned that I am not dangerous or contagious, so they ask me for help with babysitting.”
Josiane was married and had 11 children, but sadly, most of them died at childbirth. Her husband drove her away when the signs of leprosy became apparent. She then went back to her mother, who also had leprosy, and today they share the hut. Josiane’s one surviving child, a son, lives in Bukavu and sometimes comes home to visit. He is her pride and joy. Josiane has a deep dream and longing for her own house with room enough for her son.
She also has other dreams for the future: “I would like to set up a simple little shop. Imagine being able to sell rice, soap, palm oil, salt and a few other necessities.”
Every Sunday Josiane and her mother go to the church that they belong to, even though it is a long walk. They have always been welcomed into the church and they really appreciate the fellowship there.
“The Leprosy Mission has meant a lot to us,” Josiane says as she concludes her story. “God must have sent you to me. I am so grateful.”
Interview by Markus Freudiger, TLM Switzerland, pictured right with Josiane and Josephine.