He’s only seven years old, but already Anil has faced so much.

Programmes Officer Shabina Sadiq found her first visit to Leprosy Mission projects in Sri Lanka to be a deeply affecting experience. Read on as she tells her story.

My trip to Sri Lanka was my first overseas visit since starting work at The Leprosy Mission this year. I knew it would be eye-opening, but I’m not sure I was prepared for just how much it would affect me.

One of the key people I met on the trip was Rev Joshua, director of Kaveri Kala Manram (KKM), one of our partner organisations in Sri Lanka. He took us on a visit to a small village called Kristokulam to meet the residents, many of whom are affected by leprosy. While there, we were introduced to Diaya – a teacher at the local school – and some of her students.

Diaya started to tell us a little about what life is like for children in Kristokulam. She explained that around half the children in her class of 34 students have been diagnosed with leprosy – a shocking statistic even in Sri Lanka, which in 2015 had the highest rates of new child cases of leprosy of any country in the world*. Then, she introduced us to Anil, a seven-year-old boy who has recently been diagnosed with the disease.

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Anil (centre), with his friend Kulendran and their teacher, Diaya.

Anil was a shy boy who kept looking at his feet as he constantly touched at the leprosy patch on his face – a patch of lightened skin that he was obviously very self-conscious about. It struck me how thin he was, so we asked Diaya whether the children were getting enough to eat.

“Their families don’t have enough food,” she told us, “So they might only be eating one meal a day.”

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Radhika, 14, is currently taking multidrug therapy (MDT) and is fortunate to have no lasting physical effects unlike her grandparents, who are both severely disabled by leprosy.

The school has been trying to help the children by providing them with a meal of lentils every day but I was shocked to see how small a portion they were being given. It’s all the school can afford.

“Malnutrition and leprosy make the children constantly weak and tired,” said Diaya. “They’re unable to concentrate in class and it affects their learning.”

Many of the children are taking multidrug therapy (MDT) to cure their leprosy. They need to be strong so their bodies can fight the disease and that means they need good nutrition. But with food as scarce as it is, that’s not easy.

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Kulendran, who is also seven years old and in Anil’s class. He’s currently taking multidrug therapy to cure his leprosy. His father is also affected by the disease.

Like many children in the region, Anil’s father went missing during Sri Lanka’s recent civil conflict and has never returned. Rev Joshua told us that Anil continues to be deeply affected by this. When I asked Anil about his hopes for the future he explained that he wants to be a policeman because he then might one day be able to find his dad.

It broke my heart to hear what had happened to Anil when he was diagnosed with leprosy: his mother and stepfather completed rejected him and threw him out of the house. I’m very close to my young nephews and it upset me so much to think of what it would be like for them to be shunned by their own family.

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Anil and his grandfather

Thankfully, Anil’s grandparents took him in and are doing the best they can for him, but life is hard for them. His grandmother is disabled as a result of leprosy so she finds it difficult to carry out everyday tasks like cooking. They have no income – and so every day Anil relies on the small meal from the school food programme.

That’s why, this winter, you can do something amazing for Anil and children like him. We want to provide them with parcels containing food packed with essential nutrients that will help them grow strong as they take the medication they need to cure their leprosy.

It costs just £7.50 to buy a food parcel lasting a month – an opportunity to start making a huge difference in the life of a child like Anil. We need to act now to ensure a brighter future for these children. They urgently need our help.

I left Kristokulam with a heavy heart. There is so much more than leprosy affecting children like Anil – hunger, rejection, the loss of loved ones. In just seven years Anil has had to go through so much. But together, we can help him and his classmates turn their lives around.

*WHO statistics

Savings group looks forward to a more secure future

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Saving for the future: the farmers’ group in Chai village, Mozambique. Photo: Paul Salmon

Every two weeks on a Sunday morning, a large group of people from the Chai village farmers’ group – including many who are leprosy-affected – gather under the shade of a large tree to shelter from the sun.

Each member puts 10 Mozambican Meticais (about 10 pence) into an old flag laid out on the ground, before the coins were gathered up and placed in a secure box. This money goes into their community chest, from which anyone can borrow in an emergency.

Next, each household deposits whatever else they can afford into a separate individual savings pot. Security is high, with this secure box placed into another box and then into a third even sturdier box. All three boxes are locked individually with keys held by three different people.

Every two weeks, the farmers’ group get together to do this so they can save up for a very different future for their families.

Farming is the main way of earning a living in this very rural part of northern Mozambique. The majority of the group are mothers like Olencia, who wear their youngest children on their backs while working the land, growing maize, cassava, beans, peanuts and potatoes in small community plots.

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Olencia, a member of the savings group, who has been putting money away to save in case of a medical emergency.

Olencia told us that the 500 MT she deposited in the savings box that day was for medical emergencies. The mother of four, whose two older girls are married, has a one-year-old and a five-year-old and wants to do the best she can to ensure a better future for them.

Driven by love, the stories of each of the savings group members were similar. Parents who had never had the opportunity to learn were saving up to give their children a better chance in life through education; others were putting money aside simply to ensure that they could pay for treatment should their children become ill.

With no public transport and the nearest bank many miles away, putting money aside for emergencies wasn’t something the farmers living in Mozambique’s remote villages could do in the past. The knock-on effects of unexpected costs – such as a relative’s funeral – could be longlasting and utterly devastating.

Judy Atoni, Programs Manager with Food for the Hungry Association – The Leprosy Mission’s partner organisation in Mozambique, said “When there was, say, a relative’s funeral, they had to sell their grains to get cash. It left them with little food for the rest of the year and resulted in malnutrition.”

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Adelino counts the money before it is locked away for safekeeping. Photo: Paul Salmon

As a result of the Feet First campaign in summer 2015, more than 60 savings groups have now been set up across Cabo Delgado province by The Leprosy Mission in partnership with Food for the Hungry. These life-changing groups have only been made possible by your overwhelming response to Feet First, where every donation was matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

“As word gets around we are finding that more and more people are getting interested in joining the groups,” said Judy.

Adelino, who is leader of the Chai group, told us: “If there is an emergency – for example, someone is sick and needs to go to hospital – they can borrow money from the community savings pot.

“People can also borrow from the individual savings pot for any needs or purchases. If it is less than the amount they have saved then there is no interest to pay.”

Adelino is a father of four boys and said that the money he put into savings that day was to help pay for his two older sons’ education.

“There is no secondary school in this village. The nearest one is 45 kilometres away,” he said. “I want my sons to get good jobs so they can help improve the lives of people in the village.”

Your amazing generosity means families like Olencia’s and Adelino’s can now rest easier, knowing they have financial security, and that they can plan for the future.

 

Getting a village back on its feet

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Antonio, with wife Gabrielle, can work again and is now in charge of his local self-care group. Photo: Paul Salmon

Last summer, during the Feet First campaign, we introduced you to Antonio Habibu from Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique. After contracting leprosy when he was just a child, he lost all feeling in his hands and feet. This meant it became very easy for him to injure himself, particularly while working in the fields or cooking over an open fire. The ulcers he developed became infected and eventually, Antonio lost his toes. When we met him last year, he was only able to walk short distances, using crutches. He was no longer able to work and struggled to see his wife, Gabrielle, work so hard on her own.

So when Antonio received his first pair of protective sandals last autumn, he was delighted. Thanks to his new footwear, he found he was able to work again and his mobility was improved. He still needs to walk with a stick but crucially, the sandals protect his feet from further injury. He and others were provided with footwear thanks to your generosity in responding to Feet First, where every donation was matched by the UK Government and the impact of these gifts on the lives of people in Mozambique has been immeasurable.

“The sandals helped a lot and have made working in the fields much easier,” said Antonio, who is a village elder and also in charge of monitoring his local self-care group, where members meet regularly to help each other keep leprosy-affected hands and feet safe and injury-free.

Recently, we became aware that a year’s wear and tear on Antonio’s sandals had left him in need of a fresh pair. So on a visit to Nancaramo, The Leprosy Mission Mozambique’s Country Leader, Dr Arie de Kruijff, brought with him more pairs of sandals and shoes for people to try on.

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Antonio tries on shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

“Gripping the sandals because of the way my feet are can be difficult, so these shoes are much more comfortable,” Antonio said as he tried on a pair.

As two women came forward to choose shoes of their own, he said: “Some people can work without shoes. But these two would not be able to work on the farm without them.”

One of the women, 61-year-old Mariana, was so delighted with her new shoes that she danced an impromptu jig for the group.

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Mariana was also delighted with a new pair of shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

Your support for Feet First has meant we’ve been able to identify many more people who need care and provide them with shoes and self-care training. By safeguarding them from further injury and disability, you’re helping them get back on their feet – literally and metaphorically.

During his visit, Dr Arie spotted a boy called Manuel, who appeared to have white patches on his face. He immediately examined Manuel to check whether the white patches were the first signs of leprosy.

He called to Antonio, who said: “Yes, we too spotted the white patches on the child’s face, and two members of the footcare group are looking into it.”

“That is what it’s all about, making people aware that they should react as soon as they detect any signs of the disease,” said Dr Arie. “It’s very heartening to see that the self-care group is doing exactly what we hoped it would do. It’s great that they are learning and it’s really encouraging to see the community being vigilant.”

While the difference made by a new pair of shoes is obvious and immediate, the long-term impact of the training and support offered through the self-care groups is equally important and means that more people like Manuel will be diagnosed and cured of leprosy as soon as possible.

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Dr Arie de Kruijff examines Manuel, a boy with skin patches that could indicate leprosy. Photo: Paul Salmon.