India's National Forum of people affected by leprosy is now in its third year. In September, there was a regional conference in Kolkata for colony leaders from West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and the northeastern states.
Invited to give a speech, I was profoundly moved as I looked out over the packed auditorium. Thanks to the efforts of all involved, the organization has come a long way in three short years.
The Forum has created a network of colony leaders. But in order to deepen the links between them and India's 700-plus self-settled colonies, and to strengthen their unity, more efforts are needed. Enhancing the functions of the headquarters and regional offices, and recruiting talented people - especially young people - are essential for the growth of the organization. Without the further development of the National Forum, an organization of and for people affected by leprosy, the various social and economic problems facing the colonies will not be solved.
In June, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously approved a resolution to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy. India was one of the 47 member countries of the Council to approve it. All governments that are party to the resolution must honor the commitments they undertook in Geneva. To help them in this task, they need a responsible partner. In India, I hope the National Forum will be that partner, gaining the trust of both the central and state governments and collaborating with them closely on resolving the outstanding issues.
On this visit to India I went for the first time to the holy city of Varanasi, where I saw the sacred River Ganges. The Ganges flows from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, and runs through India's past, present and future. Like the Ganges, the National Forum is made up of many tributaries. I believe it will become a mighty river and a powerful current for social change.
-Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador