Project Leader: Belen L Dofitas, MD MSc
The stigma of leprosy can last a lifetime even when there is already a cure for this infection. To address this problem, the Philippine Leprosy Mission established a Voice Empowerment project funded by Hivos called ” PALs4PALs: Public Speaking and Peer Counselling Program for Persons Affected by Leprosy (PALs)” in 2019 so that patients, former patients, family members, and supporters may become spokespersons for Leprosy advocacy work and also act as peer counselors.
Why PALs4PALs? PALs could be more effective counselors as they no longer fear the disease and could empathize better with the patients. In addition, these prospective counselors could be trained to help the person affected by leprosy cope with the disease and the stigma attached to it. They could also encourage the patient to comply with the treatment process and self-care advice from the doctors. Participants can also educate the public about leprosy, show them that leprosy is indeed treatable and that patients can lead productive lives. They can help in the international movement to reduce stigma and discrimination against leprosy patients.
The Outcome: The project provided two-day training workshops, followed by practicum and mentoring on public speaking and peer counselling to selected members of the Hansen’s Clubs, leprosy patients undergoing treatment in various health facilities and members of the Coalition of Leprosy Advocates of the Philippines (CLAP), a nationwide partnership of grassroots organizations.
By early 2020, we were able to hold 1 peer counselling training workshop and 4 Speakers Bureau training workshops in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao City. A total of 60 PALs and supporters learned basic skills and were able to practice them under mentors. By the end of the project, participants gained enough confidence to be out in the open about their leprosy stories. They were able to make public talks, interviews, or infomercials. The peer counsellors were able to apply their training on new leprosy patients, on those undergoing difficulties, and even on their own problems.
PALs4PALs video and podcast series: Now, their On-the-job training output has provided us with a rich source of advocacy and information materials for the public and those affected by leprosy. Due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, our participants had to make their own video and audio recordings from home. But obstacles opened up opportunities: PLM has now launched a series of videos and podcasts featuring our PALs4PALs participants in our website. From their own hearts, from their own voices, you will learn about their journeys, the facts about leprosy, the stigma and discrimination of leprosy and how they overcame these, and the many positive changes they experienced because of this Voice Empowerment project.
What did we learn? This project has developed the voice of those disabled by leprosy. If they learn and show that their “personhood” does not diminish because of the disease, then the community will also learn to focus on the person and not on the disease. These PALs just might save some lives in the process.
PALs for PALs, Friends for friends. Hear their voices, here are their stories.