A NEW HOPE FOR LEPROSY SURVIVORS
At first glance, Jennifer Quimno, or Jenny for short, is your average middle-aged Filipina. Lively and gracious, she never fails to engage the people who visit the Jagobiao Christian Parents Association, Inc (JCPAI) Training Centre in Mandaue City. But behind the welcoming smile hides the scars left by a disease she battled years ago.
Jenny is among the 14 million people around the world who have won the battle against leprosy since the 1980s. Also known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy or “ketong” is a chronic, mildly communicable disease which primarily affects the skin; the mucous membranes, especially those in the nose; and the peripheral nervous system.
“The first time I found out, I got scared. I thought was going to exiled somewhere far from civilization and die there alone. It was only later when I found out that the disease is completely curable,” Jenny said.
Jenny underwent treatment for two years at the Eversley Child Sanitarium Compound in Mandaue City. “I was a very active student in Davao but had to leave everything behind to pursue treatment. I felt ashamed and inferior at first. But after seeing the other patients who are in a much dire condition, those feelings were erased and I told myself that I will do everything to help them.”
With this in mind, Jenny joined the Jagobiao Christian Parents Association, Inc. (JCPAI) to help fellow survivors to integrate back to society. A few years after she joined, Jenny now heads JCPAI as it continues to spearhead micro-enterprise projects for leprosy survivors.
While effective treatment for the disease was already discovered in the early 1980s, the age-old stigma associated with leprosy continues to linger in communities. “Surviving the disease is one thing; living with the stigma that comes with it is an entirely different thing to cope up with,” said Jenny.
She considers herself lucky as after her recovery, she immediately landed an employment at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Cebu. “But it’s different for the majority of survivors out there. It’s difficult to land a job especially when your medical certificate states that you once had leprosy. It’s unfair, but you can’t blame them,” Jenny said.
Australian Ambassador Tony Hely together with his wife, Ms Wendy Jeffery, and Direct Aid Program (DAP) Secretary Alexis Keedle (not in the photo) recently visited the Jagobiao Christian Parents Association, Inc (JCPAI) Training Centre in Mandaue City to check the progress of the DAP- supported project for women who recovered from leprosy.
In November 2006, the Australian Embassy’s Direct Aid Program (DAP) provided JCPAI a Php250,000 grant for their Rehabilitation and Industrial Skills Training Program. The contribution was used to acquire twenty four manual sewing machines, one five thread edging machine and fourteen sewing machine motors.
The project aims to provide more than 100 disadvantaged women with the skills training needed to help them gain employment in the garments industry, enabling them to earn sufficient income to support their basic needs. “Their entry into the work force also intends to minimise, if not totally erase, the stigma associated with their previous affliction which will hopefully result in their eventual acceptance into mainstream society,” Ambassador Hely said in a recent visit.
Jenny for her part expressed gratitude to the Australian Government for their support. “The assistance will go a long way towards our objective to provide survivors with a new lease on life.”