Everyone has the right to be heard: Priya’s story

Priya stands outside her home
Priya stands outside her home

Stuart Towell reflects on a recent visit to Sri Lanka and an encounter that will stay with him forever.

Having visited Sri Lanka this summer, it conjures up vivid memories for me of the hot and humid weather and amazing food I tried on my trip. But what stands out for me the most is the dedication of the staff I met and their work towards an end to leprosy.

As there are no Leprosy Mission hospitals in Sri Lanka, Rev Joshua, Deborah and the rest of the team work tirelessly and selflessly in local communities with one mission in mind –  to find, cure and heal people affected by leprosy.

Many people in Sri Lanka know very little about leprosy or its symptoms, but they are all too aware of the effects it has on the body. There is a lot of fear and stigma surrounding the physical affects of leprosy, so much so that many affected by the disease are rejected by loved ones and forced out of their communities. It is for this reason that many people with leprosy are left afraid and isolated.

I remember the day we met Priya. We got up early to travel to her home with Deborah and Rev Joshua. As we walked through a makeshift gate I was immediately struck by how this place did not feel like a home. As I looked around, I realised just how vulnerable Priya is. A few pieces of wood and wire were twisted together to make a fence. It is though she is on her own in her village, her home set apart from the others.

It felt quite lonely and isolating for her and as we began to talk with Priya, it was evident that she is at risk from so many things. Others can see her vulnerability and she explained that she worries about the danger posed by thieves and sexual violence. She and her children are also at risk from snakes that inhabit the area.

Priya shared with us how her small hut cannot withstand the weather during the monsoon season. Often in the middle of the night she has to huddle around her bed with her children, unable to sleep with water running into the hut. I keep coming back to the way she described her life there:

“This is how I live – we manage.”

Deborah examines Priya's arm
Deborah examines Priya’s arm

Deborah checked Priya for signs of leprosy and soon realised she had lost sensation in her hands and legs, meaning she cannot work and struggles to do everyday tasks like cooking safely. For so long, Priya has felt as if people do not care about her. It was heartbreaking to hear her say that she feels her voice goes unheard. Everyone has the right to be heard.

Meeting Priya really highlighted why the work of the team in Sri Lanka is so vital. She will now be cured of leprosy. but for people like her, their journey doesn’t end there. Dedicated staff like Deborah and Joshua provide essential self-care training to prevent further damage and disability. They also provide leprosy education and awareness training to help communities welcome people affected by leprosy and combat prejudice.

For me, Priya’s story will be one I remember when I think back on my trip to Sri Lanka. I hope her life will be transformed and that more people like her will get the care they need, helping to ensure a better future for them and that their voices are heard.

Today, you can help someone like Priya. It’s vital that as many people as possible get the chance to be cured of leprosy and find healing. You can be part of this by donating today – and your gift will provide two life-changing things – the cure for leprosy and the promise of ongoing care and support.

Images: Ruth Towell

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A ministry of reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Religious leaders in Sri Lanka meet ahead of a Puttalam interfaith leprosy event
Faith leaders meet ahead of an interfaith leprosy awareness event in Sri Lanka. L to R V Sundaran Raman (Hindu), Pastor Grashan Sanjeeva (Christian), Abdullah Mohammed Alim (Muslim), Kirologam Sudassi Thero (Buddhist) and SR Muzammil (Muslim).

In the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, National Director Peter Waddup writes of The Leprosy Mission’s part in a ministry of reconciliation there.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, a joyous day when hope and faith are renewed, the radio news delivered the devastating blow of a string of suicide bombings on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka.

A country struggling to rebuild itself following the three-decade bloody conflict that killed tens of thousands of people had been struck again, this time the minority Christian community its target. Almost 350 were killed and upwards of 500 injured.

Having visited this beautiful country and being welcomed with open arms by its wonderful people back in February, I was heartbroken.

I had witnessed, with tears in my eyes, members of the different ethnic and religious groups in this still fragile nation – Singhalese, Tamil, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu – come together with the common goal of reaching out and finding and curing people of leprosy. If left untreated, leprosy is physically devastating as well as emotionally scarring and Sri Lanka is known to have a high rate of ‘hidden‘ leprosy cases.

A decade ago, my colleague Siân Arulanantham, Head of Programmes, was praying during her first visit to Sri Lanka as The Leprosy Mission England and Wales began working in a country still reeling from conflict.

Siân said she felt God say that our work there must be about peace. This confused her as she thought ‘obviously it’s about leprosy’. But we have since learnt that we needed to bring divided religious and ethnic groups together to have a significant impact on leprosy.

Meeting our partners in Sri Lanka, I heard some incredible ‘God moments’ where people who traditionally wouldn’t be in the same room together are now working together to find and cure people with leprosy.

sri lanka
Vice-President and President of the Leprosy People’s Forum for Change in Sri Lanka, Amarasinghe and Nahamani, have bridged an enormous divide to work together.

As an illustration, the President of the Leprosy People’s Forum for Change, Nahamani, 73, is a Hindu Tamil working closely with his Vice-President Amarasinghe, 38, a Singhalese Buddhist.

It broke my heart to hear how leprosy sufferer Nahamani had lost two sons in the conflict and had been treated so badly, because of deep-rooted prejudice surrounding leprosy, that he contemplated suicide. But instead he channelled his grief into leading a leprosy screening programme in more than 30 villages in the Jaffna district of Sri Lanka. In one day I had the amazing privilege of meeting five children who had been diagnosed with leprosy and cured before any damage was done to their bodies.

Almost in a modern take of the Good Samaritan, Vice-President Amarasinghe was rescued by Rev Joshua, a Tamil and someone from the very community he despised when diagnosed with leprosy back in 2015. He now gives money he can barely spare to support children from the Tamil community who he once hated.

So the word my colleague Siân received from God all those years ago is being lived out.

It all began in 2014 when The Leprosy Mission and its partners began training pastors and church leaders about leprosy, the idea being they could offer practical help and advice after delivering a service, say, on Jesus healing the man with leprosy.

Initially it was a project run throughout evangelical churches but then, amazingly, other faith communities wanted to be involved from Anglicans to Catholics and then Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.

This was hugely encouraged and resulted in nearly 10,000 people hearing about leprosy through 78 interfaith awareness events as well as another 20,640 people reached through 349 leprosy awareness Sundays. The work is growing and continues. Scores of people have been diagnosed with leprosy as a result with the sting of the disease taken out of the diagnosis for many thanks to the powerful nature of the campaign. In addition, prejudice between the communities is being broken down through new relationships and friendships formed between religious leaders.

We were devastated to learn that one of the three churches targeted on Easter Sunday – the Zion Church in Batticaloa – was where a leprosy Sunday service had been carried out in January. The blast killed 27 people, including 15 children, and injured more than 50 others.

With this catastrophic loss of life we weep as God weeps and our request for prayer is that the reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups will only grow stronger following the Easter Sunday tragedy.

Making momos with Stef Reid and Dr Indra

Stef with prosthetics
Stef Reid visits the prosthetics department at Anandaban Hospital

On her recent trip to Nepal to visit Anandaban Hospital, Paralympian Stef Reid spent time with staff including Anandaban’s Medical Director Dr Indra Napit and his family. Former Celebrity Masterchef contestant Stef had the chance to try her hand at Nepalese cooking at one of Dr Indra’s ‘momo parties’, where he gathers friends together to make momos before tucking into a delicious meal together. He’s provided us with his recipe, so now you can make them too. Why not hold your own momo party and let us know how you get on?

How to make momos

480g plain flour
1kg minced chicken
50g chopped fresh coriander
150g chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and chilli powder to your taste
Non-stick cooking spray

1. Mix together the flour and 375ml water in a bowl. Knead the dough well until it is medium firm and flexible. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix together the chicken, coriander, onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, lemon juice, salt and chilli powder (we use a tablespoon of salt and half a  teaspoon of chilli powder) in a bowl. Mix in 250ml water.

Kneading dough

3. To make the momo wrappers: break off a piece of dough weighing roughly 30g and roll into a ball. Place the ball on a flat surface and roll into a piece about three inches round with a rolling pin. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Rolling the dough
making wrappers
4. Spray a steamer pan with cooking spray.

5. Place a teaspoon of the chicken filling in the middle of a wrapper. Holding the wrapper in your left hand, use your right thumb and index finger to start pinching the edges of the wrapper together. Pinch and fold until the edges of the circle close up, then place the momo in the steamer pan. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Adding filling
Uncooked momos
6. Fill the steamer pot half full with water and bring to a boil. Set the steamer pan with the momos on top of the pot and cover with a tight lid. Steam the momos for 15 minutes.

In the steamer
Cooked momos
7. Serve your hot momos with pickle (read on to find out how to make it) or another dip of your choice!

Stef Reid with finished momos

How to make pickle

500g tomatoes
250g sesame seeds
100g peanuts (fried)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and chilli powder to your taste

1. Boil the tomatoes until soft.

2. Fry the sesame seeds (be careful not to burn them).

3. Mix the tomatoes, sesame seeds and peanuts together and blend.

4. Heat the oil in a pan and add all the other ingredients – garlic, ginger, cumin powder, turmeric, lemon juice, salt, and chilli powder – to your tomato mixture. Add 125ml water and cook for about 15 minutes.

Stef Reid visited Anandaban Hospital to show her support for the Heal Nepal appeal. Until 27 April, the UK government will double your donations to Heal Nepal, meaning that every £1 donated will become £2, making twice the difference to find, cure and heal people affected by leprosy in Nepal. Give a gift to Heal Nepal today.

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