At a village in Lamongan, about two hours' drive from East Java's provincial capital Surabaya, around 30 elementary school children are attending a special class on leprosy one Saturday afternoon in June. Their teacher, Ahmad Zainudin, knows the subject well. Some four years ago, after being diagnosed with the disease, the educator found his colleagues giving him a wide berth and his various teaching jobs drying up. It was a bitter time in his life, and the experience led him to help set up PerMaTa, an organization of and for people affected by leprosy, dedicated to fighting for their rights and rooting out stigma.
One school kept faith with Zainudin . the school where he teaches today. A 'natural' in front of a classroom of kids, he has a gift for communicating with his young charges, and on this particular topic he speaks from the heart. As he talks, different images and words are projected onto the classroom wall: the bearded features of G.A. Hansen, the Norwegian physician who identified the bacillus that causes leprosy in 1873; "Mycobaterium leprae," the name of the disease's causative agent; an armadillo, the only significant natural reservoir of leprosy apart from humans.
In the course of the lesson, there seems a lot of information for such a young class to absorb, but Zainudin has no hesitation in laying out all the facts. "It's important to teach children the correct information early in life," he says. "They have good brains. That way, as they get older, they will know not to stigmatize someone just because he or she has leprosy." Having endured the pain and hurt of rejection himself, Zainudin is determined that no one should have to experience the same on account of this disease.