The man who changed my mind about coconuts

Kunam with some of the coconuts he is now growing thanks to your support.
Kunam with some of the coconuts he is now growing thanks to your support ©Ruth Towell

On World Food Day, Stuart Towell reflects on a visit to Sri Lanka, where your support is enabling people affected by leprosy to develop sustainable sources of food and income through agriculture. 

There are so many foods that divide people’s opinions: ‘love it or hate it’ foods. Maybe there is one that instantly springs to mind for you. Maybe it’s coriander, olives or blue cheese (all of which I like but that I know people have strong feelings about!). A big contender in my house is mushrooms: my wife’s not a fan, but I love them.

But what does this have to do with coconuts? Today is World Food Day, and it got me thinking about how I’ve had the privilege of being able to travel and try some amazing foods around the world – some that I’ve enjoyed, and some less so, despite people telling me that I was bound to love it.

For me, the best example would be fresh coconuts, specifically fresh coconut water. Many would say that drinking it here in the UK is not the same as having one freshly picked. But for me, even after trying freshly picked coconuts several times while overseas, I just didn’t get the hype.

That changed the day I met Kunam, earlier this year.

Kunam lives in Sri Lanka and is one of the members for the People’s Forum for Change, a group of people affected by leprosy who are campaigning for change across the country to ensure that more people are diagnosed with leprosy and cured – and also to combat the stigma of the disease.

He was diagnosed with leprosy in 2015, when Leprosy Mission staff ran a screening programme in his village. Due to lack of sensation in his leg because of nerve damage, his leg got badly burned by the fire one evening as he slept. As a result of his burn his leg had to be amputated.

Kunam has now been cured of leprosy, as well as taught self-care, so that he can ensure that he doesn’t suffer any further infections or burns. Thanks to your support, he has also been provided with coconut plants and agriculture training so that he can provide for his family.

Kunam's son harvesting coconuts ©Ruth Towell
Kunam’s son harvesting coconuts ©Ruth Towell

As we were getting ready to leave, Kunam motioned to his son, who quickly scaled a palm tree and cut down enough coconuts for everyone to eat. I became a little nervous. One thing is for sure – I did not want to offend Kunam after he had been so generous to us.

Kunam’s son cut the top off the coconut and handed one to me, motioning for me to drink. I raised the coconut to my lips and took a sip. Suddenly my preconceptions about coconuts were blown out of the water. It was completely different to what I was expecting. In fact, it was absolutely delicious.

It turned out this coconut had grown on one of the plants that was originally provided by incredible Leprosy Mission supporters too. It was such a privilege to be able to try one, and to meet Kunam and hear about his life. He is a man that uses his own experiences to help educate others to get treatment before irreversible damage happens.

I left realising that now my mind had changed. I now liked fresh coconuts – and that was all thanks to Kunam.

Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy

Today’s reflection is from James Pender, Programmes and Advocacy Officer at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales.

Today is when we remember Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem at the start of Holy week, when the crowd were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

In Matthew chapter 21:1-11 we read that Jesus came riding on a donkey and that people waved branches from trees to celebrate Jesus’ coming, for which we name the day ‘Palm Sunday’. In Psalm 96, King David, an ancestor of Christ himself, calls the whole earth to rejoice and again in 1 Chronicles 16 after another triumphal procession to Jerusalem carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

Psalm 96 declared that the trees, fields and all Creation should praise the Lord or ‘the trees of the field shall clap their hands’ as the old chorus goes, ‘for the Lord comes’. On Palm Sunday the Lord did indeed come physically into Jerusalem and branches from the trees were giving praise as people waved them and a young donkey that had never been broken-in worshipfully submitted to Jesus its Creator riding on its back.

In Colossians 1 it talks about Christ creating all things and then reconciling all things to himself through his death on the cross, while Romans 8 talks about all Creation (humans and nature) suffering, groaning and yearning to be set free. So, it is fitting that through the donkey, the palm branches and the people waving them, the desire for all Creation’s redemption was represented as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die for ‘the whole cosmos’.

In Mozambique through our Feet First appeal we raised funds that are being used to bring new life to people and the fields they farm. Fields that are suffering through drought, climate change and environmental degradation. ‘Farming God’s Way’ encourages environmentally sustainable farming using organic techniques such as mulching, composting, crop spacing, weeding, thinning, and legumes, alongside Biblical teaching on good stewardship and creation care. As a result, the Kingdom of God that Christ birthed at the First Easter, is being expanded to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy and their communities in the north of Mozambique. For as a result of better care of their fields and ensuring the goodness of the soils are replenished, farmers are having larger harvests and feeding their families. For All Creation it is a time for rejoicing instead of groaning!

 

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Farming Gods Way Mozambique
One of the Feet First Agriculture Groups in Mozambique

Good news for leprosy communities in Nigeria

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Luke 4:18-19

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Imad stands among his crops, grown thanks to agricultural training and a new well.

Imad came to live at Ammanawa leprosy community in Sokoto, Nigeria not long after developing symptoms of the disease in 1979. The community has grown up around the local hospital and his neighbours told him it would be the best place for him to go to get help.

Fortunately, completing his course of medication combined with diligent self-care of his hands and feet has meant that Imad, now 67, is free of disability. But even this did not stop people stigmatising him – prejudice against people affected by leprosy in his village was strong, so Imad stayed on at Ammanawa and has been there ever since – marrying, raising a family and farming on land near the hospital.

In this notoriously dry area of northern Nigeria, farming isn’t easy and families like Imad’s have often struggled to grow crops successfully. For an already-marginalised community like Ammanawa, that means greater poverty and uncertainty about having enough food.

This year, however, residents have seen some enormous changes take place, as part of a new project focusing on improving the lives of people living in leprosy communities.

“When I arrived at Ammanawa, I was amazed to see how people’s lives are being transformed,” said Programmes and Advocacy Officer Gareth Shrubsole, who visited Nigeria recently.

“We don’t often hear good news coming out of northern Nigeria and it is challenging place to work in, but in this project I really saw the scripture of Luke 4:18-19 being brought to life.

“The good news is that people are learning to farm their land to grow food and generate an income; those imprisoned by disabilities are getting freedom through provision of wheelchairs, crutches and prosthetic limbs; the blind are recovering their sight through cataract operations.

“What’s more, those who have been oppressed by leprosy stigma are being released as greater awareness is spread about the real causes of leprosy and people affected by it are empowered to speak out against stigma.”

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Imad at his new well.

In addition to learning more about farming, Imad has found his life revolutionised by a new tube well. The result is that, helped by his sons, he’s now growing numerous different crops – an impressive feat on land that is known for being so dry and difficult to farm.

“People like Imad are now benefiting from better hygiene and clean water thanks to new boreholes and latrines too. The Leprosy Mission team working in the area are doing wonderful work and it was a real privilege to be able to see it firsthand,”said Gareth.

“As I talked to Imad, it was wonderful to see the range of crops – fat onions, bright red chillies, sturdy cassava, and many more – that he has been able to nurture in this often barren land. It’s all thanks to the water supply from his new tube-well and his training in farming techniques.”

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Working the land.

It’s all thanks to your support and prayers that people like Imad are acquiring the new skills and resources they need to live life to the full – and it’s a huge encouragement to see the way people living in communities like Ammanawa have seen their lives turned around in the past year.