AIFO with its headquarters in Bologna, Italy, began its operations in India in the 1970s. It first began supporting leprosy projects through German Leprosy Relief Association. In 1979, Dr V Ekambaram, an eminent leprologist was chosen to be the AIFO representative in India. His expertise and experience as the First State Leprosy Officer, Tamil Nadu helped to lay the solid foundation for all future activities of AIFO. In 1983, AIFO extended its support to National Leprosy Eradication Programme of the Government of India.
In 1996, AMICI di Raoul Follereau, was formed as a public trust, with its head office at Bangalore.The functions of the AMICI Trust began under the chairmanship of Dr V Ekambaram. His death saw the passing on of the mantle to Dr Daisy Kandathil as the country representative of AIFO who relinquished the post in 2001. Since then, it has been functioning under the leadership of Mr M V Jose.
Dr. V. Ekambaram : 1917 – 2003
A medical doctor by profession, Dr Ekambaram has made an indelible mark in the history of leprosy in India with his five decades of unstinted work in the field. After a brief service in the Indian army, he plunged into the field of leprosy, when he was posted to the Leprosy department in Stanley Medical College, Chennai. His efforts aimed at eliminating leprosy in India continued till the very end of his life. When Dr. Ekambaram first stepped into the field of leprosy work, there was no Governmental programme. Undeterred, he went on to become an eminent leprologist and the first state leprosy officer in Tamil Nadu. Over the decades he was deeply involved in every stage of strategy and implementation of leprosy work in India. Recipient of the prestigious International Gandhi Memorial Award, Dr Ekambaram had in his work spanning several decades proved amply that he deserved the award and more. From the rudimentary isolation of infected patients to the advanced stage of Multi Drug Therapy, he had seen it all. Before his association with AIFO in 1979, he held the post of secretary, Damien Foundation India Trust. It was under his guidance that AIFO was able to extend its reach to a large network of NGOs committed to the eradication of Leprosy in India. As early as 1983, he developed the concept of lending financial and technical support to districts through the National Leprosy Eradication Programme of the Government. He went on to build the Bangalore urban and Mandya district programs in 1992. These were pioneering efforts between the government and NGOs. He was also the brain behind the concept of District Technical Support Teams (DTSTs). For projects like Sumanahalli, Shanta Jeeva Jyothi, Arogya Matha Seva Kendra in Bhalki, MOB in Mandya and several others, Dr Ekambaram remained a driving force.
He remained the Special representative of AMICI and the crusader for leprosy elimination until his last breath in 2003. It is in his memory that the Dr Ekambaram endowment prize has been constituted for the best outgoing NMS student at SLR&TC College at Karigiri. A recent decision of the AMICI Trust decided to institute Dr V Ekambaram memorial fund to provide scholarships to children of the leprosy afflicted.
Dr. Daisy Kandathil
An enterprising social worker, Dr Daisy Kandathil stepped into Dr Ekambaram’s shoes in 1989 as the AIFO representative of India, after Dr Ekambaram was appointed as Special representative to look after MDT Programs. A committed and hardworking person, Dr. Kandathil took the rehabilitation projects to a new level. Along with the current India representative Mr M V Jose, the network of projects Dr Kandathil ensured that the network extended far and wide in the country. Projects were taken up to Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharastra and Kerala besides Karnataka. Dr. Kunju Daisy Jacob Kandathil is the youngest daughter of Mr & Mrs. Jacob Kandhathil, born on September 02, 1933 at Vaikkam, Near Cochin, Kerala. After completion of her graduation in Science, she worked as a teacher for one year. She went to Rome for Medical studies in 1956. In 1963 she graduated as a Medical Doctor. In 1966 she did her P.G. i.e. M.D. in Tropical Medicine. In 1966 she worked in a hospital in Modena, Italy. In 1967 she came back to India and worked in hospitals in Ooty & Kerala. During her stay in Italy she came across a group called Associazane Feminile Medico messionario. A group of lay apostolic mainly working for the medical mission. So she joined them in 1961. The association started its first house in India at Cochin during 1970 and she started her work among the Leprosy affected persons, especially those who were living in the leprosy colonies in and around Cochin along with Dr. Pia Reggi another association member from Italy. Actually the inspiration for her to be associated with leprosy effected persons started in her early childhood days. Her fraternal uncle Rev. Fr. Joseph Kandathil started to work for the Leprosy Effected Persons in Chertala, near Cochin. He also started a religious congregation, mainly dedicated for the Leprosy work. Number of occasions as a child she has visited the Leprosy centre along with her parents and family members. When she started the work in 1970 in Cochin, they could not appreciate the trend of isolation of Leprosy Effected Persons. So she started an integrated health Centre named Service Centre at the periphery of Cochin, now which is the heart of the city. In 1979 she went to Bombay to work with Fr. Torriani at Lok Seva Sangham, among the leprosy Effected people in the slums of Bombay. In 1981 she came back to Cochin and continued to work till 1988.
She was asked to take up the responsibilities as representative of AIFO in India in 1989. At that time Dr. V.Ekambaram was the representative of AIFO. He was the Guru (Teacher) and great companion. The office of the Representative was shifted to Mumbai and functioned from her residence. In 1996 she established AIFO India office at Bangalore. At the time when she took up as a representative AIFO was supporting only few Leprosy NGOs in India. By the time she retired in 2001, AIFO was supporting about 35 projects in India (Leprosy, Community Based Rehabilitation for the persons with disability and vulnerable children). She is still continuing her work for the same cause. Currently AIFO has 50 projects categorized as CBR,Leprosy and Children projects.
In her own words “Giving hope to the patients is a wonder full experience.” The joy expressed on the face of the patients cannot be explained.