Yohei Sasakawa meets the Dalai Lama in Delhi, India, on November 21, a day after their joint scholarship program was announced.
In March, His Holiness the Dalai Lama joined me on a visit to a leprosy complex in Delhi, India. Alighting from his car, he was soon moving among the colony residents eagerly awaiting him. Reaching out, he took people by the hand and gave them his blessing.
We first met in Prague more than a decade ago at a conference I organized with then-Czech President Vaclav Havel. During one of our conversations, I told him I was working to eliminate leprosy from the world. I said my efforts were focused particularly on India, where my dream was to bring an end to begging by people affected by leprosy.
He told me he had supported the work of Baba Amte, who devoted his life to helping people affected by the disease, and that he himself took a great interest in their welfare. Subsequently, the Dalai Lama has twice been a signatory of the annual Global Appeal I launched to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy; he has also recorded supportive video messages.
At the time of the colony visit, he announced he would make a donation to people affected by leprosy and their families through his foundation. Wishing to do something to see that the Dalai Lama’s generosity bore fruit, I proposed that the Nippon Foundation provide funds as well, and that we create a scholarship program for children affected by leprosy, or whose parents are affected by leprosy, living in colonies. The Dalai Lama agreed, and the scholarship program was officially unveiled in November.
For many of these youngsters, stigma and discrimination, coupled with a lack of financial resources, rule out the chance of higher education. My promise to His Holiness is that the Dalai Lama-Sasakawa Scholarship will help them to surmount the obstacles of stigma and poverty and one day make their mark on society.
In any case, it is my wish that by the time these young people finish their education and start work, colonies will have been integrated with the rest of society. When that happens, the isolation and discrimination their residents endured will be a thing of the past.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador