Born in 1903 in Nevers (France), Raoul Follereau seemed set for a life as a writer and poet with the publication of his first volume, The book of love, when he was only 17 years old.His career as writer and poet and subsequent marriage to Madeleine Boudou at 22 continued on the conventional path.
But, in 1936, the course of this sensitive writer’s life changed dramatically to that of a great social reformer. A routine assignment through an Argentine newspaper to the Sahara region brought him face to face with leprosy affected persons for the first time. The strong social discrimination meted out against these unfortunate people, set Follereau on a crusade against this discrimination. Over the next ten years, he travelled the world many times, holding 1200 conferences which allowed him to support the building of Adzope`in Ivory Coast, the town of the leprosy affected persons.
What began there, spread into a strong campaign to free them from segregation imposed by society for centuries.Not confining himself to mere speech, Follereau set an example, visiting them and embracing them to promote the idea that leprosy affected persons are human beings. To him goes the credit of establishing the World Leprosy Day, observed even today in most countries in the world on the last Sunday of January each year.
Exactly thirty years later, in 1966, his initiative resulted in the setting up of ELEP (European federation for the associations working against leprosy). Later on, it became international and came to be known as ILEP, a federation of major anti leprosy organizations).
In 1975, he submitted the text of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Leprosy Affected Persons to United Nations. Follereau died in Paris in 1977 on December 6, but his work lives on through organizations all over the world which call themselves ‘Friends’ of Raoul Follereau. AIFO work in India is an attempt to translate this doctrine into reality. We call ourselves ‘Amici di Raoul Follereau’, which means ‘Friends of Raoul Follereau’.