Schoolchildren attend a leprosy awareness event on Madura Island in East Java Province, Indonesia, in March (see pp6-7).
Around the world there are buildings and artifacts that tell the anguished history of people affected by leprosy. This history is often thought of as a ‘negative history’ or a ‘negative legacy’. Now there is a growing movement worldwide to preserve this history and pass it on to succeeding generations.
In Japan, as well as historical buildings there are chronicles of the activities of the different sanatoria residents’ associations, anniversary magazines and other records that trace the trajectory of people who lived through the past 100 years of leprosy history. There are also wonderful books, poems, paintings, ceramics and other artworks created by people who spent their lives segregated from society. Despite the harsh circumstances in which they lived, they sought to overcome the prejudice they faced and lead lives that shone with meaning.
From these various historical documents and artifacts, we can ascertain how the residents thought and felt and how they fought against discrimination. By preserving these records, we can ensure that even after the last person who went through these experiences has gone, their history will not fade. I believe there is a need and a value in preserving the history of this discrimination so that humankind never forgets its mistakes.
The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation have assembled a team of experts in Japan to carry out a survey on whether the history of people affected by leprosy can be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Working toward a deadline of June 2017, and with the cooperation with the All-Japan Hansen’s Disease Sanatoria Residents Association, they are investigating what records to select and how to present this history.
With the cooperation of like-minded people, I would like to see this history added to the Memory of the World Register in other countries, too, and hope this will lead to World Heritage status one day. I welcome your guidance and suggestions.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador