In 2017, Fisseha Getahun was one of 120 people awarded a Davis Projects for Peace Prize in order to implement a project to help those affected with leprosy in his community in the capital of Ethiopia, entitled: Peace Development between Leprosy Affected and Surrounding Communities. He saw his project as an answer to Kathryn Davis’ call to find ways to “prepare for peace” and to help those most in need where he lives. This made him the tenth student from Future Generations University to receive this award in the past seven years. In this week’s blog post, he shares some background on his project with us.
Fisseha with community representatives from the leprosy-affected
community and non-leprosy-affected surrounding community
The concept of the project came about from my work with those with leprosy in affected communities. In many countries, people affected by leprosy face a number of social and economic problems, such as discrimination and stigma. These issues are even worse for individuals who experience disability due to leprosy. They are more vulnerable to the endless stigma and discrimination than any other form of disability in our society.
Even after someone with leprosy has been cured, they’re unable to lead an ordinary life due to the consequences of lingering complications. Some of the most difficult complications experienced are they forced to live as a colony in specific area and they did not get access for education. As a result of the wide misconceptions that exist about leprosy, many of those affected are forced to leave their birth places and live in segregated groups, known as leprosy colonies. In the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, individuals who have been affected by leprosy are deliberately pushed out of the city and made to settle in a solid waste dumping site with no infrastructure and poor social services.
The leprosy-affected community of Addis Ababa is called the “Zenebework Community.” The majority of early settlers in the area were leprosy victims who largely migrated here from various other parts of the country– mainly Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and SNNP regions. Their goal was to receive medical treatment for their leprosy at ALERT (All African Leprosy Rehabilitation and Training Centre) Hospital, formerly known as Zenebework Hospital.
After treatment, the leprosy victims were supposed to go back to their place of origin, as direct by the government, but the majority of them refused, preferring to remain in this area where they’d received treatment. This resulting settlement was named after the Zenebework Hospital, which had been established in 1932 and named after Princess Zenebework, daughter to Emperor Haileselassie. In 1949, the Abune Aregawi/Gebre Kristos Church was established in the same area, resulting in this name also being used for the locality. When construction began on the hospital in its present form as ALERT in 1967 and was later inaugurated in 1971, many other institutions, such as schools, followed. This provided a basic infrastructure that the leprosy victims had previously been completely without.
The Zenebework community was unique from its inception as it was a place predominantly inhabited by people afflicted with leprosy. Although family members of ex-leprosy victims are still migrating to this place, the trend has altered, and now people with disabilities have also started inhabiting this location. The community was a highly stigmatized one for many years, often discriminated against by the surrounding areas. Those living here were prohibited to have any contact with other communities of foreign visitors. Members of the Zenebework community were even denied the right to rear cattle or conduct other small businesses for their livelihood, as transmission of the disease to other healthy communities was feared. Nursus and other medical professionals, even the clergy and priests, refused to provide professional and spiritual services there. The establishment of the Koshe garbage dumping site in 1954 in this area further added to the poor image of the Zenebework community.
However, this has changed somewhat recently, and there is less stigma in modern days than existed previously. Although the trend is working on reversing, all of those living in the leprosy colony are still often perceived as less than human and there is still much work to be done. Their livelihood depends on begging and collecting food from the waste dumping site, and they are severely marginalized and banned from entering adjacent non-leprosy affected communities.
Although I came from a non-leprosy-affected family and grew up hearing the negative stereotypes, I had worked as a professional in a leprosy-affected community for four years. During this time, I was initially discriminate against by friends, family, other relatives, and neighbors as the only non-leprosy affected member of the leprosy community. Gradually, however, I changed their attitudes about leprosy and the leprosy affected-community for the better.
My purpose with the Davis Peace Prize has been to continue bridging the gap between the leprosy-affected community, which has been traditionally marginalized in the very worst of ways, and the larger surrounding community. To contribute to the peace and understanding between the leprosy-affected community and the surrounding communities, I incorporated plans geared towards inclusiveness and holistic development. Through this, the local mindset and correction of misconceptions would follow.
Below is an outline of the expected outcomes and major activities set in place to bring about this objective:
Surrounding communities experience behavioral change in their attitudes and practices toward leprosy affected individuals such that community integration is improved
Increase common institutional memberships among leprosy and non leprosy communities
Improved social relations among leprosy and non leprosy communities
Utilization of services at common points is increased
Training of Trainers: Training on conflict management and resolution will be conducted for 20 community members including 10 leprosy affected, 10 non-leprosy affected community members. The participants will be influential male and female community and religious leaders who have the capacity to cascade the knowledge for their followers.
Experience sharing: In addition, experience sharing for 10 community leaders will be facilitated. They will adopt and scale up the initial successes within their community to broader community contexts.
Prepare radio program: Online national radio program is perhaps the best instrument to disseminate information and awareness among the general public. It helps to understand the truth of leprosy National radio program air time will be organized for the purpose of information dissemination and awareness creation.
Organizing football match events: Football team will be organized the mix from both communities to integrate them and foot ball matches will be prepared by blending families of the community.
Panel discussions: A one day panel discussion with community members and professionals will be conducted to respond to community questions and to understand the truth about leprosy.
For more on Fisseha’s project, be sure to visit:
Fisseha is an Ethiopian who has more than 15 years of proven and practical work experience in different organizations. He’s worked in agricultural research institutes and both international and local NGOs, while holding different positions such as Research Technical Assistant, Development Facilitator, Project Officer, Program Coordinator, and Executive Director. He currently runs an NGO called Child of Present a Man of Tomorrow (CPMT) in Ethiopia, which works to promote the wellbeing of women and children. He is also presently studying a Master’s degree in Applied Community Change in Conservation concentration at Future Generations University to complement his backgrounds in agriculture, development and leadership.