Belgium has a population of about 11 million people of two main linguistic groups: Flemish-speaking (around 60% of the population) and French-speaking. There is a long history of leprosy interest especially connected with Father Damien, a missionary whose life work was centred on Molokai, an island in Hawaii to which leprosy sufferers were exiled. Damien himself caught leprosy and his story has been an inspiration for many in Belgium and beyond.
TLM Belgium was founded in 1972. Its committee structure, website and periodicals to supporters are in the two main national languages. Until 2008 there was a fulltime staff member but since 2009 TLM has operated solely through the contributions of volunteers and with assistance from neighbouring TLM countries. The focus was and remains primarily on Protestant churches in Belgium. Considering that the Protestant community in Belgium is rather marginal – with just 1-2% of the population – this was viewed as quite a challenge at the time of founding, and it still is. TLM Belgium uses World Leprosy Day, personal visits to church congregations, and the annual conventions of Protestant churches, to reach new people and raise their interest in the cause of leprosy. It hopes to grow through attracting the support of new volunteers and the involvement of new local churches in commitment to the needs of people affected by leprosy.
TLM’s country leader in Belgium is Paulin Songolea Bakalania. In 2015 TLM Belgium contributed £15,000 to TLM programmes especially in DR Congo with whom it has a particular affinity.