Look behind the lens of leprosy with photographer, Tom Bradley

We asked photographer, Tom Bradley, to share his experiences from Bangladesh and how your support really can transform the lives of these forgotten communities.

“As I watch Shopna examine patches on the faces of brothers Chaina and Joy, aged six and nine, she takes down their details, marking them both as suspect leprosy cases, Masuma spots another boy in the crowd with facial patches, noticing that he looks just like Joy. She soon discovers that the boy was his twin brother, Bijoy. He too has the telltale patches on his skin – three children from one family potentially affected by leprosy.

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6-year-old twins, Joy and Bijoy, may have leprosy. Photo: Tom Bradley

Shopna is a Field Organiser for The Leprosy Mission’s partner Mukti, and she’s assigned specifically to diagnosing new cases of leprosy, along with her co-worker Ripon. My name’s Tom Bradley; I’ve been photographing people affected by leprosy for almost a decade now, and I’ve been following both Shopna and Ripon for the day, as they have been called out to examine two suspect cases of leprosy in a village in western Bangladesh. Accompanying me are Leprosy Mission staff Masuma and Jiptha, both of whom are also trained to recognise leprosy cases.

But Bijoy isn’t the only extra case that day. As Shopna begins to examine him, another boy, 10-year-old Durantha, is pushed to the front of the onlooking crowd of children. He also has patches on his face. And he is not the last unexpected case that day either.

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10-year-old Durantha has patches on his face. Photo: Tom Bradley

We walk through the village on this very hot and humid morning, followed by a number of children and a few adults. Most of the men are out working in the fields, and a few of the women steal away from their work preparing food, looking after the house and children and tending to any livestock left at home.

As we leave the village, we walk along narrow paths, slightly raised up with earth to divide the square rice paddies.

It seems it’s difficult to even leave the village without spotting yet another child with patches of leprosy.

Meanwhile Shopna and Masuma, walking a little behind us, are called off to someone’s house, having just been informed of another child who has patches on their face. Two more suspect cases are discovered. Having caught up with us, Shopna takes over from Jiptha to take down the boys’ details.

As we move onto the next village, just across the road, Shopna comes across a young man with patches on his arm. The patches show signs of clear anaesthesia, and then Shopna realises his mother is affected by leprosy, although she was cured some time ago. The young man, Dukhiram, is confirmed as a new case and Shopna notes down his contact details so he can be supplied with the vital MDT tablets as soon as possible.

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Shopna checking the patch on Dukhiram’s arm. Photo: Tom Bradley

The next village is much the same as the first, and though we’re going primarily for my benefit, to interview an old patient I have met before, Shopna is busy wading through the crowd picking out people with patches on their face.

The work seems neverending – so many suspected new cases found.

Shopna hasn’t yet been doing this work for a month, but already enjoys it greatly.

“When I visited the field last month, I felt very encouraged. If I visit more areas I can identify more people affected.” Shopna tells me. “I feel it’s such a great opportunity to work with them and help them get treatment in time. I feel really proud doing this work.”

I can see Shopna enjoys her new job and is so good at interacting with the people she meets, smiling and reassuring them, but also listening with genuine concern if they talk about their problems.

“Now so many women come to meet with me and talk about different issues,” she says.

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Shopna works tirelessly to ensure people with leprosy are diagnosed and treated. Photo: Tom Bradley

Shopna’s job, which takes her out into the community most days in the week is absolutely vital in effort to combat leprosy in the area, where people living in remote villages may not get the treatment they need otherwise, their leprosy left undiagnosed.

On this day alone she registers ten new suspect cases and one new confirmed case. The suspect cases will all be followed-up regularly, so that if their patch does indeed turn out to be leprosy they can be put on treatment and cured, hopefully, without complication. The longer leprosy is left untreated, the more potential it has to cause severe disability and have an even greater impact on someone’s life.

People like Shopna work tirelessly to prevent this from happening, a real lifeline to the people they meet.”

You can see more of Tom’s work on his website or on Twitter/Instagram @tombradleyphoto

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Why I love working for The Leprosy Mission

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.

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Laura met Mahendra during her visit to Anandaban Hospital, Nepal in 2017.

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.

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Laura with colleagues from across The Leprosy Mission Global Fellowship as part of the Asia Learning Workshop, 2017.

 

You can apply for The Leprosy Mission’s graduate scheme here.  (Deadline August 1st).

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.