"I suffered a lot but now I win"
One day Birke noticed a strange-looking patch on her face. Her grandmother used traditional herbal remedies to try to heal her, but it made no difference.
Eventually she was taken to ALERT hospital in Ethiopia and diagnosed with leprosy.
When her family and community found out they became very fearful; they believed that leprosy was untreatable and that it was highly contagious. Instead of hiding away, Birke became more determined to get better. She saved her own money, secretly went to the hospital and underwent treatment for two and a half years.
Birke’s spirit of determination carried her through her recovery and, while at the hospital, she received training in embroidery.
Thanks to the training she received, Birke was able to set up working groups to produce local handicrafts. Many of the women involved in these groups used to beg on the streets – now they are learning a skill and earning an income. But Birke hasn’t stopped there – she has also set up a Leprosy Women’s Association to teach people affected by leprosy about their rights and to advocate on behalf of those who are marginalised.
Birkes’s advocacy efforts have led to an improvement in knowledge about leprosy in the local area, particularly in schools so that children with parents who have leprosy no longer face discrimination.
In September 2018, Birke was delighted to receive a Wellesley Bailey Award from The Leprosy Mission in recognition of all that she has achieved for women affected by leprosy in Ethiopia.
“Because of your energies, passion and commitment, I can stand here today a winner,” Birke said when she received the award at TLM’s annual Global Fellowship meetings in Addis Ababa last year. “Not just of the award, but in life! Now I have a good life, a good salary, a good family. Now I am free from stigma and discrimination!”
Photo caption: Kofi and Birke, winners of the 2018 Wellesley Bailey Awards