Partnership Manager Louise Timmins is visiting Nepal this week, visiting Anandaban Hospital and meeting some of the people whose lives have been devastated by the earthquakes. She’s been keeping us updated during her time away.
My last visit to Nepal was in 2011, and as I sat on the plane to Kathmandu yesterday it was bittersweet to be returning to a country that is so close to my heart. On one hand I felt so excited about meeting my friends from the TLM Nepal team, and helping with the amazing work they do from Anandaban Hospital, but on the other I was dreading seeing the devastation and misery cause by the recent earthquakes.
I was welcomed by Shovakhar Kandel, who heads up all of TLM’s work in Nepal. He’s a fantastic man who has committed many years of his life to helping people with leprosy. It wasn’t long before I felt like I was with family.
Today was my first day in Kathmandu, and I visited Patan Leprosy Clinic. As we pulled on to the broken road (I’ll never complain about little pot-holes in England again!), I could see huge groups of people standing outside makeshift consultation rooms. People were queuing with photos of their homes which had collapsed – all desperate for help.
I got out of the vehicle and spotted Dr Ruth among the many faces. Dr Ruth is the most gentle woman I have ever met, and has been a counsellor for TLM Nepal for several years. She beckoned me over and I sat with her while people poured their hearts out.
The need is overwhelming but we are committed to helping people who are affected by leprosy and disability. People like Rasmi, who was widowed four years ago and has no children to support her. As Rasmi shared her story, she wiped away tears with severely disabled hands caused by leprosy.
I asked how old she was, and was surprised when Rasmi said she was 55. Her hard life was etched in each line on her face, making her look much older.
Rasmi was orphaned, along with her younger brother, when she was just 10 years old. The people in her village saw that there was something wrong with her hands and took her to Anandaban Hospital. She was diagnosed with leprosy and as she explained how that felt, Rasmi cried again saying that no child should ever have to suffer as she did.
Rasmi went on to explain that she had one uncle left, and she really hoped that he would look after her. Sadly, he told her that she must never even come to his door. With no one to care for her, someone from a local village took pity on Rasmi, and allowed her to tend his cows in return for food. She was not allowed to enter the house though, or mix with the family.
She occasionally returned to Anandaban Hospital when she needed protective sandals, and it was there, at just 17, that she met and fell in love with Mangal. Mangal was also affected by leprosy and worked in the shoe department. I have a strong suspicion that Rasmi’s sandals wore out faster than most so that she could visit often!
Mangal asked Rasmi to marry him, and they had a good life together. Rasmi was unable to have children, which has caused great sadness for her. She now cares for her younger brother, who also has leprosy, and makes a living by growing vegetables. I wondered how she could tend a field with disabled hands.
As all this wasn’t bad enough, when the earthquake hit the first floor of their home collapsed. Rasmi and her brother moved in to a tent outside, but soon had to return to their condemned home because they couldn’t keep snakes out of their shelter. Tigers also roamed outside and Rasmi told me that it was terrifying.
Her home is not safe to live in, but she has no choice but to risk sleeping indoors as the alternative is even more dangerous.
As I write this from my bed, I’m also so thankful that I have a safe place to sleep tonight. I am so thankful for our valued supporters who have given so generously to help the Nepal team provide hope for the future.