When we met Mithu in 2013, it was four years since she had been diagnosed with leprosy and her journey to Anandaban Hospital had been a long and painful one.
Growing up in a very poor family in a remote area of Nepal, Mithu started work – as a cleaner in a hotel – at the age of 13. She had been working there for two years when she started to develop loss of feeling and swelling in her hands, which soon made her job difficult. The local health centre was not able to offer her any advice. Scared and not knowing who to turn to, Mithu was listening to the radio one day when she heard about a clinic in Surkhet District – and she decided to make the journey there in the hope of finding out what was wrong.
Travelling alone, it took Mithu three days to reach the clinic – two days of walking and a day’s bus journey. She didn’t tell her parents where she was going or what she thought was wrong with her. Then her worst fears were confirmed. Mithu was given multidrug therapy and sent away. She didn’t want to tell her parents about her leprosy, but in the end, she felt forced to. The signs of the disease had become visible – her nose had partially collapsed.
Because she had leprosy, Mithu was asked to leave her job at the hotel and had to return to her village. Once her neighbours found out about it, they began to stigmatise her.
“When I used the common tap or wash area, people would clean it before anyone else would use it. Sometimes I would not go out – I just stayed at home and cried.”
Mithu’s sister-in-law did not even want her in the family home and refused to let her touch her young son.
“Either Mithu leaves this house or I do. I will go home to my parents,” she told the family.
Mithu loved her nephew very much and was hurt that she couldn’t look after him any more. But she would not leave home and in the end, her sister-in-law made the decision to leave instead, only returning when Mithu became an inpatient at Anandaban. She was showing signs of leprosy reaction and was referred there for treatment in 2013.
At Anandaban, Mithu was diagnosed with severe leprosy reaction, which can cause intense pain, skin nodules, fever and nerve damage. It took more than a year to successfully treat the reaction and Mithu was scared about what the future could hold for her.
“At Anandaban I have made friends and have people to talk to. At home I will be alone,” she said. “While I have been away my sister has also been diagnosed with leprosy. I have cried a lot because I think it is my fault and that everyone will blame me. How much blame will I face at home when I go back? I don’t know what I will do.”
Mithu, who had never been to school, was learning to read and attending other education classes at Anandaban. She wasn’t sure what her future held but was reluctant to go back to her village due to the stigma she had faced, even though she missed her family.
Recently, we were thrilled to meet Mithu again and hear about the amazing transformation in her life since she first came to Anandaban. Now 22 and completely well, Mithu has had reconstructive surgery on her nose. She’s still living at the hospital, but this time as an employee, with her own home next to the self-care unit where patients learn to look after their leprosy-affected hands and feet.
“I clean, cut the grass, look after the animals and the garden,” she said. “I also help the patients with their self-care.”
Mithu shares her life at Anandaban with another person who has helped her find love and acceptance there – her husband. He is also affected by leprosy and has stayed on at the hospital following treatment to work at the self-care unit. They’ve been married for a year and Mithu smiled widely as she told us about their life together.
It’s clear that her time at the hospital has not only helped Mithu heal physically and emotionally, but has also given her a new purpose in life, new friends and much happiness. It’s what makes Anandaban Hospital such a special place – and why people like Mithu appreciate your support and prayers for The Leprosy Mission’s work in Nepal so much.
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