New status as trust strengthens goal to empower people affected by leprosy.
Formed in 2005, the National Forum is a networking organization that draws its membership from approximately 800 self-settled leprosy colonies across India.
On 21 February 2011, it opened a new chapter in its history when it was registered as a trust in Tamil Nadu state. Chaired by Dr. P.K. Gopal, the National Forum has a board of nine trustees, all persons affected by leprosy.
"The National Forum has made great progress since its inception, and has done good work in identifying leaders among people affected by leprosy in each state," says Dr. Gopal. "The task now is to strengthen the organization at state level."
Fellow trustee G. Venugopal says the National Forum has helped people affected by leprosy "to think about ourselves in a different way, and to know our rights." It has also encouraged self-reliance. "The National Forum doesn't tell people: 'We will work for you.' It tells them: 'You work for yourself. We are with you, in the shape of guidance, cooperation, implementation, and maybe financial support.'"
The key goals of the National Forum, as laid down in the deed of trust, are as follows:
- Work for the socio-economic empowerment and welfare of persons affected by leprosy and their families, including the physically disabled.
- Promote respect and dignify the lives of those who have been affected by leprosy, including the physically disabled, and to work in partnership to ensure they live rewarding, dignified lives.
- Associate with the government, non-governmental organizations and international agencies to raise the social and economic conditions of people affected by leprosy, including the physically disabled.
- Educate the community about leprosy.
- Collect information from various sources on the subject of leprosy and physical disability in India, and function as a consultative agency.
- Combat prejudice, discrimination, segregation, social rejection, the use of derogatory terminology and the stigma associated with leprosy through self-support, self-reliance, dignity and public awareness programs.
- Represent people affected by leprosy and, in working for their empowerment, enable people in each state to become autonomous and strong.
|The nine National Forum trustees and their patron, Yohei Sasakawa, gather for a commemorative photo at the conclusion of their first board meeting on 26 February 2011 in New Delhi. Back row (left to right): Lourdes Nevis Mary, Sarang Sudam Gaidhane, Rambarai Sha, Vagavathali Narasappa, G. Venugopal; Front row: A. Prakkasam, Dr. P.K. Gopal (chairman), Yohei Sasakawa, Bhimrao Madhale, Maya Ranavare.|