Former intern Ruth Jones remembers her trip to India to visit some of the many people who will be helped by the CREATE project, a new Leprosy Mission project in India that aims to challenge negative attitudes about leprosy and help people affected by the disease into job training and the workplace.
The opportunity to travel to India and to see the work of The Leprosy Mission and the CREATE project was so eye-opening for me. During our trip we travelled to many different places and met many leprosy-affected people; all were warm and hospitable to us despite the often sad and desperate situations they were facing.
One person I met whose story had a particular impact on me was 24-year-old Geeta.
We had only been in India a few days when we made the long journey to Geeta’s village, travelling along dusty rural roads. When we arrived at the village, Geeta and her young daughter greeted us. She was happy to see us, but also a little apprehensive as she didn’t want our arrival to draw attention to herself – and I was soon to learn why.
We entered Geeta’s home. This home was once a place that had contained joy and excitement for Geeta as she started married life with her husband and as they had their first child together. Now, however, it is a home that feels empty as she raises her daughter alone, without the love and support of her husband.
Geeta’s husband has abandoned her because she has leprosy; her mother-in-law is trying to persuade him to divorce Geeta. She first noticed something was wrong two years ago, when she started to experience tingling in her left hand. Now she’s cured of the disease, but the stigma surrounding it remains and Geeta has been rejected by the people who should love and care for her.
What struck me is that Geeta is a similar age to me. I am engaged and excited to start married life with my husband and we are looking forward to living in our first home together. I just can’t imagine how terrible it would feel to suddenly be rejected by someone you love because you have leprosy, a disease which is curable but is still surrounded by stigma so powerful that it tears families apart.
But despite this, I have hope for Geeta. My trip showed me how Leprosy Mission staff are working hard to raise awareness in villages like hers about leprosy, showing them that leprosy is not something to fear. Training up ‘Leprosy Champions’ to advocate for an end to stigma and discrimination and for better treatment for people affected by leprosy from employers, schools and authorities will make such a huge difference to people like Geeta.
My prayer for Geeta, her daughter and every other leprosy-affected person I met, is that the CREATE project will be able to help them find acceptance from their families and communities once again, and that the fact they are leprosy-affected won’t hold them back from living happy and fulfilled lives.