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Jacob 2400X745
I was only a little boy of thirteen. I got skin sores on my arms. My skin was red. ‘Auntie, my arms look funny,’ I said. She was shocked. We went to hospital on a different island. The doctor examined me and gave me medication, but that didn’t work. Why didn’t the sores go away? What was I supposed to do?

I grew up into an adult man who was terribly insecure. I thought I had leprosy, but I wasn’t sure. I was ashamed, afraid of being stigmatized. I didn’t dare tell anybody. Not even the woman I married. I numbed myself with booze and kept bad company.

My skin turned darker, my fingers were becoming crooked

I went from bad to worse. I felt so alone. My skin turned darker and darker, my fingers were becoming crooked. But I hid it from everybody. If only I’d asked for help sooner. If only I’d had the guts to share my discomfort.

But in my darkest, loneliest hour, my fortune changed. Somebody appeared at my door. ‘I’m from the island’s new health centre. I’m here to help you.’ My data had been forwarded, and it wasn’t until then that I was formally diagnosed with leprosy. And with the right medication, I was cured. Finally I was cured from the disease; I felt liberated.

My emotional wounds too had to heal

I used to fish for tuna in the deep waters around the island, but I anticipated better economic chances for myself as a local boat builder and repairman. I have my family and myself checked for symptoms of leprosy every year, but I wanted to do more. I have become chairman of the island’s self-​care group. There are thirteen of us and we are all former leprosy patients. We assist the health workers in finding new leprosy patients. Furthermore, we talk with each other about the disease and we help each other treating our wounds.

Including the invisible wounds. By sharing our experiences with the disease, our little island is now free of stigma. Now no one needs to feel ashamed the way I did for so long.

Leprosy relief at Bunaken

Jacob David grew up, and still lives on Bunaken, a small island off the coast of Northern Sulawesi in Indonesia. It has a population of nearly three thousand people. Since 2001, leprosy health workers have been paying yearly visits to the island to locate new patients and to educate the islanders on leprosy. Thanks to their recurring visits the stigma around leprosy has disappeared and the disease is under control. The past three years only one new case of leprosy has occurred.

Jacob working on the bootJacob

Photography: Sasja van Vechgel

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