Sophea Leng loves his job. He counsels people affected by leprosy at Kien Khleang Leprosy Rehabilitation Center (CIOMAL) in Cambodia. Empathy and tissues are the tools of his trade. Sophea got his start when doctors asked him to find out why patients weren't taking their medicine, or were refusing to eat, and he grew into the role.
He spoke about his work at the recent global leprosy program managers' meeting in Delhi. During a coffee break, he added more details. "It's very important to listen and let people talk about what they want," he said. "I tell them it's OK to shout, get angry, or cry" - hence those tissues.
Although he once had leprosy himself, he does not mention this to the person he is counseling. Nor does he offer advice. "It is not my place to make decisions for them. I can only ask how something makes them feel, or what they want to do about it. The idea is to help them find a way to solve their problems themselves."
The work is not without its pitfalls. On one occasion, after Sophea comforted a weeping client, offering her tissues and a consoling word, she went to his superiors and accused him of "falling in love with me."
Called upon to explain himself, Sophea told his boss he had just been doing his job - the job he loves and is learning more about each day.