Strengthening the Foundations of a Support Group for Persons Affected by Leprosy in China: Joy In Action

Although few new cases of leprosy are reported in China, there are said to be over 20,000 people living in more than 600 leprosy recovery villages located in remote mountains or isolated islands. Many of these people are now elderly and have no contact with their families, surviving on government pensions or struggling in poverty in places where pensions are insufficient

Joy In Action is an organization that provides student volunteers with the opportunity to stay over at these villages, get to know the residents and work on projects to improve the infrastructure. In Chinese, “jia” means home and the volunteers stay in the homes of the villagers for between one to three weeks, eating together and sleeping under the same roof, just as if they were family, and building up a relationship of trust as they work on the projects at hand.

Scene from a work camp in the village of Zama, southern China, in the summer of 2021.

Sasakawa Health Foundation has been supporting these work camps since they began in 2005. In the early days, those volunteering were university students from Japan. People from the surrounding area, who had been reluctant to come to these villages because of their fear of leprosy, sometimes came to see these unusual foreigners. Seeing the villagers and the Japanese students living together gradually changed their attitude toward leprosy and led them to start interacting with the inhabitants.

In the 15 years that the foundation has been supporting JIA, its activities have grown and some 20,000 volunteers have participated in work camps in 80 villages. Today, all of the activities are carried out by Chinese staff and Chinese student volunteers.

While many NGOs have difficulty raising funds, JIA has a backup team made up of graduates who participated in the workcamps when they were at college and raise funds to support the workcamp activities of today’s students.

Now on a stable footing, JIA is in the second year of a three-year project from FY2019 to FY2021 to strengthen its fundraising capabilities further with the aim of weaning itself from SHF’s support.

In 2020, due to the spread of COVID-19, strict regulations were imposed in China and many activities were restricted and universities closed. Under the circumstances, JIA charity events had to be cancelled or changed.

In Guangzhou and Nanning, backup team members drew on their qualifications as doctors and lawyers to hold paid online seminars, donating the proceeds to JIA.

Flyers for online seminars run by doctors and lawyers who were once JIA volunteers.

In addition, JIA acquired 90 new supporters through activities by backup team members in each region, such as providing online consultations on higher education and employment, or by soliciting people to become JIA “monthly supporters” and make a regular donation each month.

Because of the invaluable experience these graduates gained through their own workcamp activities, they confidently go about conveying the appeal of the workcamps to their juniors, supporting their activities and cherishing their ties with the villagers. It is through such efforts that they are helping to correct the prejudice of those around them toward leprosy.