Today we had a rather bumpy three-hour drive up into the hilly region of Nepal, the foothills of the Himalayas, to see a self-help group which has completely transformed its community.
Four years ago this area was noted to have a high number of leprosy cases so The Leprosy Mission went in and helped 23 leprosy affected people to set up a self-help group. The group received start-up money and then went on to loan its members money to start their own businesses, buy a buffalo or some chickens, or even open a shop! Before they began there was a lot of fear about leprosy. They weren’t allowed to use the village water tap. Now they are thriving with 55 members and have become friends with the surrounding community which has also benefited from their success.
One particular young woman, Nirmaya, contracted leprosy aged 13 but because her father had already had the disease, he recognised the symptoms and sent her off to the nearby TLM clinic where she received the drugs to cure her. She completed some schooling but ran out of money and had to leave. This was when her leprosy symptoms returned, either because she hadn’t been careful enough to finish the whole course of treatment previously, or because she is one of the rare cases to catch leprosy twice. She was treated again successfully but sadly her husband left her. Struggling with a small son to bring up, she was there at the beginning of the self-help group and benefited enormously from it. She now grows her own vegetables to sell in the market together with the milk from the buffalo she bought with the loan from the self-help group. She has finished school, funded by a scholarship from the group, and her son has also been awarded a scholarship too. An independent and courageous woman, she is now treasurer of the group.
This group has been so successful that they are now registered with the Government’s co-operative scheme, and are completely self-sufficient! This is what is so precious about the work of the Mission. It’s not just about curing the disease, it’s about rebuilding lives and transforming communities.
I feel very privileged to be here.