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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

REPORT: Hotel Pulls Plug on Workshop

A group of people affected by leprosy forced to hold training event elsewhere.

Yayasan Transformasi Lepra Indonesia (YTLI) is a foundation established in August 2007 to serve the needs of individuals and communities in Indonesia disadvantaged by leprosy. It runs various communitybased programs, including capacitybuilding workshops.

In November 2007, YTLI planned a two-day workshop on leadership and management for several advocacy groups in South Sulawesi Province. It chose as a venue the Valentino Hotel in Makassar, the provincial capital.

Because YTLI had never experienced problems when conducting workshops, it did not specify to hotel management that most of the participants would be people affected by leprosy. Booking arrangements went smoothly.

Of the 30 affected persons taking part, all had been cured of leprosy. None suffered from ulcers, and only a handful had visible disabilities.

The group checked into the hotel on November 18 in preparation for the start of workshop the next day. The following morning, just after breakfast, YTLI workshop organizer Adi Yosep was suddenly informed by the hotel manager that the group would have to leave. "The reasons the manager gave me were that many hotel guests had complained they were uncomfortable with, even 'disgusted by', the presence of people affected by leprosy in the hotel, reading newspapers, chatting in the lobby, and eating breakfast in the same room as other guests. According to the manager, around 20 guests had checked out.

"I was placed in the difficult position of having to explain this to the participants," says Adi. "Everyone was very disappointed with the discriminatory attitude of the hotel."

Posing after a successful workshop -- but not at the Valentino. Adi Josep is at top right.

TEMPORARY RESPITE

As they were checking out, Dr. Andi Asapa, project leader in communicable diseases at the Department of Health in South Sulawesi Province, arrived. Soon afterward, several journalists began showing up. Dr. Andi said that the workshop should be held at the hotel as planned, and discussed this with hotel executives.

Eventually, the hotel relented and agreed to allow the workshop to take place. But it also required YTLI to hold a press conference and explain that it was being allowed to use the premises. Additionally, the hotel said it would prepare a room where participants could take their meals separately from other guests.

While YTLI was not entirely happy with the conditions, it agreed to put the incident behind it and go ahead with the workshop. However, just as participants were checking in again, the owner of the hotel, accompanied by several bodyguards, arrived. According to Adi, the owner was very angry, and used harsh language to order the YTLI group from the hotel.


The manager said other guests were 'disgusted by' people affected by leprosy.

"When I tried to explain to him the result of our meeting with the hotel management, one of the bodyguards slapped me in the face. The situation deteriorated and the bodyguards menaced and intimidated us. We were all very shocked."

When Adi reported what had happened to the police, they called a meeting of everyone involved to find a way to resolve the situation. At that meeting, the hotel agreed to issue a letter of apology, and the bodyguards agreed to guarantee in writing that they would not harass participants further.

Eventually, the workshop went ahead, but not at the hotel. Instead, it was hosted at the health department's training center in Makassar.

Although traumatized by what took place, Adi's determination to advocate awareness of the discrimination and stigma that people affected by leprosy face has only been strengthened.

"I believe that we can learn from this experience," he said. "It will help to unite groups of people affected by leprosy, and will have a positive impact in helping us to move forward."