The bridges you're helping to build

This bridge is a lifeline for the people of Kyar Daw, Myanmar - and you helped build it.

Your gifts, together with funding from UK Aid, were instrumental in replacing a rickety, hand-made bamboo structure (pictured below) with a concrete bridge that's fully accessible for everyone - from children to the elderly to disabled people. The bridge provides a vital link with the school, clinic and market in a nearby town meaning that people can get there without taking their lives into their own hands.

Improving accessibility is a key element of The Leprosy Mission's work in Myanmar - a country where many people we work with live in remote areas with no public transport, proper roads or easy access to public services.

Thanks to training and community mobilisation, many people affected by leprosy and disability are being empowered to advocate for change in their own neighbourhoods. U Soe Win is just one of those people and we had the chance to talk to him recently about the changes he's seen as a result.

U Soe will always remember the “saddest moment” of his life. It was the day his daughter Daw, 15, who was selected to represent Myanmar in the East Asian Rowing Championships, was setting sail for Singapore.

The proud parents of all the team members were at the harbour to wave their children goodbye - apart from U Soe.

“I didn’t want to bring shame on my child,” he said. “It was one of the saddest moments of my life.”

It was U Soe's leprosy that made him too ashamed to be there for his daughter's special day. He was diagnosed with the disease in 1983, aged 33. But the traditional treatments he tried failed and his hands and feet became severely disabled. Fearful, because of the discrimination he suffered, he shut himself away.

A decade later, the vegetable farmer was listening to the radio when he heard about multidrug therapy - the cure for leprosy - and set off to find the clinic mentioned. He took the drugs and was cured - although the effects of leprosy on his hands and feet sadly can't be reversed.

U Soe is now chairman of his local Self Help Group, made up of people with various disabilities. The group received training from The Leprosy Mission, learning about their rights under national and international law and how to lobby for them.

Since receiving training, they have had many advocacy successes, particularly in making sure their local area is more accessible. New wells have been dug; bumpy roads repaired and widened to improve access for wheelchairs; and new wheelchair ramps installed at a hospital and a school.

Other successes include children with disabilities being readily accepted in schools for the first time and many local people learning about disability and discrimination through drama workshops - contributing to changed attitudes towards U Soe and the rest of the group.

Most recently, when the case of a man who raped a disabled woman stalled in the courts, U Soe met the judge and court officials pushing for the case to he heard. The man has now been jailed for 10 years.

Thank you for partnering with us to transform lives in Myanmar. Once too ashamed of his illness to leave the house, U Soe is now a confident advocate in his community, building bridges and improving life for people with leprosy and other disabilities.