As she comes to the end of her 2 years on the Graduate Development Scheme, one of our two Graduate Trainees, Laura Stopczynski, shares her thoughts about working for The Leprosy Mission England and Wales.
Leprosy is a cruel disease which still destroys thousands of lives every single day. Witnessing what leprosy can do and listening to heart-breaking yet powerful stories from around the world, I have been humbled and reminded of God’s extravagant grace and love he has for his world, and for his people.
Being part of the team here, allows me to play my small part in making a difference and seeing lives truly being changed by the work of The Leprosy Mission. My role gives me the opportunity to use the skills that God has given me to bless others and day to day work towards something greater.
Through working at The Leprosy Mission, I get to hear stories and see with my own eyes miracles of light happening all around the world. It’s a privilege to be part of a global family who despite living at opposite ends of the world, all have a common goal to see people affected by leprosy set free. It’s honestly such a great place to work.
You can apply for The Leprosy Mission’s graduate scheme here. (Deadline August 1st).
NTD and Research Coordinator Shabina Sadiq reflects on her recent visit to Sri Lanka.
I met Akira and her mum over a year ago when I went to visit The Leprosy Mission’s projects in Sri Lanka.
Like any child she was shy to begin with but very playful, mischievous and with a curious nature, wanting to know why so many people wanted to talk to her mum and not her. Her mum has leprosy and her dad left them when he learnt about his wife’s diagnosis. Akira was only a baby when he left and she has never seen him since.
Whilst we are talking to her mum, she mentions to the Project Officer and Doctor standing next to her “my daughter has a skin patch on her upper arm”.
They immediately turn to Akira and ask to look at the patch.
It is small, the size of a finger print, but significant enough for the Project Officer to say “bring her in to the centre and we will take her for tests”.
Immediately, I find myself looking straight at Akira thinking ‘she looks fine’. Akira, oblivious to what is happening around her, looks at me smiling and pointing, as if to say let’s go and play outside.
I turn back to her mum and suddenly realise that I do not need to worry. Akira’s mum is a Leprosy Champion. I am standing beside an amazingly strong woman who, like any mother, will fight for her child’s good health.
Over a year later I find myself back in Sri Lanka. Akira’s mum recognises me immediately and comes to shake my hand saying “it’s like meeting an old friend again”. She then points behind me.
I turn and see Akira in the distance, giggling with laughter and waving.
She has completed her MDT and looks like most happy children. She still has the mischievous look in her eye, one that at times I can relate to.
She looks healthy, loved and full of hope.
I have seen what can happen when people with leprosy receive the treatment they need quickly – this transformation is thanks to our amazing donors. It’s difficult to think about how different Akira’s life may have been if she hadn’t received the support and care she needed immediately.
Thanks to your support, our teams in Sri Lanka are able to change lives.
Thanks to you, teams in Sri Lanka are able to reach out and support people like Akira’s mum, giving them the confidence, skills and strength to overcome the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy. Leprosy Champions, such as Akira’s mum, are able support others in their communities.
You have made it possible to train local project staff so they can recognise the signs of leprosy immediately – stopping leprosy in its tracks and preventing disability.
Thanks to you, leprosy doesn’t have the opportunity to steal hope and joy from little children like Akira.
Vicki Davison, Partnership Advisor, reflects on her recent visit to India.
About half way through the trip, we spent a morning at Salur Hospital, the only hospital in Andhra Pradesh State that provides specialist treatment for leprosy-affected people. As we arrived, we were greeted by the hospital superintendent who showed us round several wards and explained the services offered at the hospital. Salur treats approximately 25,000 patients a year; the treatment provided for general patients subsidises the cost of care for leprosy-affected people. Specialist reconstructive surgery, eye care, ulcer care and diagnostic tests are all available for leprosy patients.
We visited a few of the wards, stopping to pray with patients and listen to their stories. Having spent some time in the men’s ulcer care ward, we were told there was one patient who we had to meet; the staff led us along the corridor into the women’s ward and she was immediately obvious. A young woman of only 20-years-old, Sadhika sat cross-legged on her hospital bed. She was quick to greet me as I sat by her, but her beautiful smile did little to mask the large discoloured patches on her cheeks and deep sadness in her eyes.
Sadhika grew up in Andhra Pradesh with her parents and two older sisters, both of whom are married. From a poor family, she has never been to school and is illiterate. A few years ago, Sadhika developed discoloured patches on her face and arms. Then, when playing with her friends, she caught her foot against a rock. Although it was badly damaged, she didn’t feel a thing. Her family began to panic – they knew something was wrong but couldn’t understand what was happening to their daughter. They took her to Vizianagaram where she was diagnosed with leprosy.
Although her family remained supportive, Sadhika became consumed with guilt and self-hatred. She spent every day terrified that someone would find out she had leprosy. She knew that discrimination because of this disease could be extreme – that she could be abandoned by her community and forced to leave her family. What would she do without them? Unable to read or write, and living under the stigma of leprosy, how would she earn money to eat? Would she have to beg, or worse? And what would happen to her sisters if their in-laws found out? Ashamed to be associated with a family tainted by leprosy, would their husbands leave? Would she ever be anything but a burden to her family? What good was a life ruined by leprosy?
Over time, Sadhika lost all sense of self-worth and became suicidal. The burden of suffering with leprosy overshadowed everything else in her life – her hopes and dreams, even her love for her family. Sadhika struggled on until one day she could bear it no longer. She planned to walk to the local train line and throw herself onto the tracks.
Thankfully something stopped her.
And it wasn’t long before Sadhika was referred to Salur Hospital for specialist treatment and counselling. When I met her, Sadhika had undergone reconstructive surgery on both of her hands to correct the deformities caused by leprosy. Her right foot was carefully bandaged up to cover the ulcer that had formed from an infected cut – a consequence of nerve damage. Although Sadhika has lost all feeling in her feet and will have to practice self-care for the rest of her life, her hands are regaining strength with regular physiotherapy exercises.
More importantly, she has found healing through counselling at the hospital and is starting to dream again.
Sadhika’s whole face lit up as she told me how she plans to learn tailoring at our Vocational Training Centre in Vizianagaram. Clothed in a vibrant pink shalwar kameez, I could imagine her sitting behind a sewing machine, chatting and laughing with the other girls, and I couldn’t wait for her training to start.
Sadhika will stay at Salur while her ulcers heal and her hands become stronger. Then she will go to live at the Vocational Training Centre, where she will learn to read and write, and take English and computer lessons.
It was a real privilege to meet Sadhika and hear how she is overcoming the stigma, shame and physical effects of leprosy.
And I’m so excited to see her take her next step and learn tailoring at the training centre – what a transformation that will be!