Many things have changed over the past 35 yeras at Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre, commonly know as "Ahotokurom" which means "Place of Serenity". One thing, however, remained the same throughout: our dedication to care for the marginalised, disabled and disadvantaged.
Prior to the 1940s there was absolutely no cure for leprosy, people were literally rejected from their community.
In the 1940s, a treatment was developed that could arrest the spread of the disease in the body. To dispense this treatment, a Leprosarium was built in Ankaful, near Cape Coast, on government land, the only hospital of it's kind in Ghana. Soon, word spread and patients arrived.
People who have had Leprosy are perhaps among the most disadvantaged people in our society. Not only does the disease leave them disfigured and disabled but also the stigma of Leprosy leaves them with an inability to return to their villages. Treatment was long-term, often up to 15 years. Patients were allowed to "squat" on hospital land and establish temporary shelters made with mud and straw.
This area became known as Ankaful Camp. Residents lived with great hardship, usually disabled and disfigured, shunned by the healthy, unable to work, threatened by floods and droughts and exiled from their families and villages.
During the 1970s, American Fransicans established a mission in Cape Coast and Br. Vincent Vivian became chaplain to the Leprosarium. Supported by Sr. Peg Rahilly of the DMJ sisters, his dream of building a mission specifically for Ankaful Camp was approved in 1979, built with the labour of the people of the Camp and in 1983 opened as the Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre. The DMJ sisters moved in to live at the heart of what became more commonly known as Ahotokurom (Place Of Serenity).
The Centre worked with leprosy sufferers and their families with rehabilitation as a principal focus. There was practical and personal help at Camp, special help to resettle families back in their home villages and specific nursing or other care in the family life of Ahotokurom. Others with disease, disadvantage or disability came to share in the charity that Ahotokurom afforded.
The work at Ankaful Camp developed beyond anyone's imagination. It had become clear that many of the residents were never going to be rehabilitated in their home villages, even if the physical possibility existed. Their only home was Camp. The community there was really a village and village structures were actually operating with Elders, a Chief and so on. It became clearer that rehabilitation would have, in some sense, to be of the whole village.
The living conditions were still impoverished. The mud and straw homes offered little protection from animals and from the weather. Life was especially hard for anyone with physical disability. It is not possible, for instance, to move anywhere at all in deep mud using crutches! Visitors came more often though, especially from abroad, and in 1995, Christ The King Sixth Form College in London commissioned the building of a Community Centre in Camp to bring dignity and greater facility to these village processes and activities. Residents themselves took part in the project which was completed in 1996. It proved to be a catalyst both for imagination and confidence, a mere starting point for a much more revolutionary development.
In 1997, Friends of Ahotokurom in UK, who until then were only loosely associated benefactors, got together and commissioned plans for the complete rebuilding of the village. An application to the National Lottery was successful, and further fund-raising enabled the project to begin. The land was donated by the government and every resident of Camp, including the very young children, took part in the construction process, each according to ability. By 1999 the work was almost complete with 80 new homes occupied. The official opening in January 2000 saw peoples' lives completely transformed in the newly name village: Enyindakurom (meaning "the village we did not expect").
Roads and pavements were added later. Villagers could live in safety despite their disabilities. They could move freely around the village and newer initiatives were introduced to lift them further into the world of work and self-sustenance through scholarships for training, construction of a market and provision of lock-up shops.