By Sara Tomczyk/IOCC Ethiopia
Addis Ababa — Lidya grew up on a small farm in southern Ethiopia and spent sunny afternoons playing barefoot in the fields. At 13, she began noticing a slight swelling in her feet. For a year Lidya hid this swelling from her family and school friends under long skirts. However, the swelling continued and a painful oozing wound appeared between her toes.
Lydia was afflicted by a debilitating disease called podoconiosis, a condition caused by the exposure of bare feet to alkalic clay soil that causes open sores and ulcers, infection, and burning, itching, or swelling of the feet and lower legs.
Like so many who suffer from her affliction and the misconceptions that surround her disease, Lidya's mother reacted harshly and blamed Lydia for bringing a curse upon their family. Yet, for Lidya and approximately one million people who are affected by podoconiosis in Ethiopia, a simple pair of shoes and daily foot treatments can change all of this.
Lydia fell into despair after realizing she must stop going to school and would never marry. Her mother forced her to stay inside the house and hide from the community. Then Lidya's father heard about a relative who also suffered from the condition and arranged for this relative to show Lydia how to wash her feet with soap and water and taught her the importance of shoes and socks. Within four months, the oozing stopped, and the outgrowths on her feet disappeared. She returned to school and raised awareness about the condition and its treatment among her classmates.
"So many Ethiopians, especially the children, face a host of dreadful diseases," said IOCC Ethiopia Country Representative Sigurd Hanson. "The numbers are brutal and stark, but most of these diseases are preventable."