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March 6 2010

MINNA (NIGERIA) – The elderly in the leprosarium find new hope thanks to the visit of their Sant’Egidio friends. A report

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Kampani village, at the outskirts of dusty and dry Minna, the 2 million inhabitants capital of Niger State, Nigeria. Behind the leprosarium, where patients are cured for the disease, there is a tiny village, where some former patients continue to live in their old days. The mutilations and the stigma made it impossible to return where they came from.

Iohanna is sitting in front of his poor house and waves when he sees arriving his young friends of the Community of Sant’Egidio. His body carries the signs of leprosy, the disease he was cured for years ago.  Nevertheless, he is joyful and speaks a lot, in his Hausa mother-tongue. Some time ago, heavy rain fall at night made the abandoned house in front of his crumble with a big noise, and now he is worried that also his house, where some cracks are visible, will not stand.

Iohanna is one of the inhabitants of Kampani village, where members of the Community of Sant’Egidio visit every week the elderly. To show his gratitude, he offered a chicken – one of his few possessions – to his young friends. A medal of Saint Damien of Molokai, the newly canonized saint of the lepers, that his Sant’Egidio friends offered him, is kept as a precious gift in a small box.

Blind Bakko says: “I came here when the missionaries were here. At that time it was very good: whenever you felt pain in your arms or legs, they would look at it and cure it. For free. When the missionaries had to leave, we all wept. And they wept too. Now everything is more difficult. When we want to go to the hospital, next door, they ask for money. My wife, who misses one leg, has to go out to beg.”

Kampani village is quite known in Minna and sometimes groups come to do some charity works. “But with Sant’Egidio it is different,” says the head of the village, a muslim man. “You do not come just to give something, but you come to spend time with us. And you not come just once to look at us, but you come back every time.

The best memory remains the Christmas Lunch of last year. More than thirty elderly sat at beautifully dressed round tables. “After we ate, we sung and we danced. We had never had a Christmas like that.”

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