Over 100 Years of caring
On December 15th in 1901, a Jesuit priest, Father Carlos Ferris, was visiting his friend, Snr Joaquín Ballester in the village of Tormos. He very soon became aware of the wailing and moans of Baptista, a leper who was living in the village in appalling conditions. The two friends decided there and then to build a sanatorium for Baptista and all the other lepers in Tormos and the surrounding areas.
By 1904 they had managed to bring together all the financial aid necessary to buy a suitable, large plot of land. The initial planning and building took four years and, on 17th January, 1909, the first eight patients entered Fontilles. They were attended by the Sisters of "Franciscanas de la Inmaculada" and by the Jesuits (The Society of Jesus) who began a task which has been continued throughout the ensuing years. They have been joined by many voluntary workers and, of course, general and specialist medical practitioners.
Since that time the sanatorium has developed considerably and numerous purpose-designed buildings have been added. As well as the imposing main hospital construction the community now has residencial buildings, a beautiful church, theatre/cinema, gymnasium, bars and many quiet and secluded areas of beauty and tranquility. In addition, because the patients are encouraged to dedicate themselves to practical and therapeutic tasks, the village has been able to reach its goal of being largely self-sufficient with facilities such as workshops for bakery, carpentry, blacksmiths, printing and binding, shoemaking, hairdressing and gardening.
Through its one hundred years of existence, Fontilles has dealt with over 2,500 cases, providing not only medical treatment but the possibility of bringing comfort and dignity into the lives of sufferers who, for centuries past, through ignorance of the true nature of the disease, have been regarded as social outcasts. Through Fontilles, these people have experienced real care and attention and have been given the opportunity to build meaningful lives of value to themselves and to others.
FONTILLES - A World Leader
The 'village' of Fontilles is probably one of the most remarkable in the whole of Spain and yet even many of the people who live close by know very little about its history. The theatre is just one of many beautiful buildings, all purpose-built and all set in the most picturesque of settings just off the beaten track. And yet, here in this most unexpected of locations, is a specialist resource which leads the world in its field.
Delegates, over 2,000 of them so far, from all over the world, come to Fontilles to see and to learn just how to defeat a disease which has terrified man for centuries. Even today, the myths and legends that spring to mind at the very mention of the word 'leprosy' are enough to disturb those who have not learned the truth about what has been achieved at Fontilles. Through the work of dedicated doctors here in this lovely, wooded valley, the threat of leprosy has been all but eliminated in the same manner as tuberculosis and cholera have been conquered by work at other centres.
The Fontilles story, however, is not simply one of medical research. Vital though this aspect may be, Fontilles has succeeded in another, equally important area. Those unfortunate enough to have contracted the disease have, since biblical times and beyond, been shunned by society. Ignorance and dogma have long combined to exacerbate this situation. They have been isolated and demeaned and, through no fault of their own, have been forced to lead wretched lives, their very presence being enough to strike terror in the hearts of the general populace. Fontilles has collected these poor souls from around the whole of Spain and has given them new lives with comfort, dignity, meaning and a real sense of purpose.
Today, through the success of the Fontilles programme, the number of resident patients is dwindling. For many, Fontilles has been their home for years and will continue to be here for them as long as they need it. But, as prevention and cure has been developed, the number of new cases is very low in Spain. The special skills honed here have beet) welcomed by centres in many other countries. Fontilles is a member of "The International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations" with 20 organisations worldwide and helps hospitals for leprosy victims as far afield as India and Cuba. And don't think the disease is unknown in northern Europe. One haematologist in Manchester, England has had more than 500 cases on his book.
Leprosy has thrived on poverty, malnutrition and insanitary conditions. Together with the medical treatment which has been developed, countries which have been able to improve the general welfare for their people have been most successful in containing the disease. With better living conditions, the cost of early treatment for those unfortunate enough to contract leprosy is no more than 5,000 Pesetas for a multi-drug therapy which has the potential to eradicate the disease from every country in the world.
As patient demand has lessened, Fontilles has turned its attention to other areas where the facilites could be of enormous value. One building has been recently renovated and will shortly receive the first of a new class of residents. These are the old and chronically sick who have no private or family means of support. The Society of Jesus, the "Patronato" and the Valencian Government who all help to maintain Fontilles, have all agreed to support this new venture.
So the good work of Fontilles will go on into the 21st century but, with state aid accounting for only one third of the costs, financial help from whatever source will continue to be vital.