From fear and desperation to hope for the future in Nepal

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Surroundings of Anandaban Hospital. Photo: Tom Bradley

Laura Stopczynski shares her experiences of visiting Leprosy Mission projects in Nepal.

Nepal is a breathtakingly beautiful country. Despite the devastation of the earthquake two years ago, it’s also a very resilient country, with an incredible testimony of survival through great hardship. I don’t think I could have fully prepared myself for what I was about to encounter there.

There is not one word which can describe my trip to Nepal. Meeting people affected by leprosy and seeing the Mission’s work for the first time was quite an overwhelming, burdening and sad experience, yet at each hospital that I visited, I saw an outpouring of God’s love and the hope of Jesus and realised that being part of the Leprosy Mission family means we are all helping to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy, in many different ways.

But I also felt overwhelmed by the amount of desperation and need. I wasn’t sure how to process everything. Over and over again, I kept thinking about what was next for these people? What was their future going to be like? What will happen to them? It’s hard, knowing that ultimately there is no ‘quick fix’ for people whose lives are so affected by disability and poverty.

Despite this, I repeatedly saw the staff interact with each and every patient, showing them kindness, love, support and ultimately hope through their actions. It showed me that whatever role we have, whatever we are doing, if we act with love; genuine and integral love – we can make a lasting difference.

There are many stories which I could share about my trip but one in particular has stuck with me. I would like to tell you about meeting Suman.

I met Suman when I was in Surkhet, a beautiful and peaceful place. The clinic there is relatively small but is a safe haven and beacon of hope for so many in the rural western parts of Nepal.

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Suman at the Surkhet clinic, where he receives ulcer treatment

Despite the huge cast on his foot and his struggle to walk, Suman had so much energy about him. He had the biggest smile on his face and was quick to make me smile too.

It was obvious to see his joy and comfort from being at the clinic, especially when he saw counsellor Gyann Gurrang.  It was wonderful to see their undeniable friendship and the strong bond between them.

Gyann is so invested in his patients and my admiration for him is unbelievable. His role is to listen to patients day in and day out, trying to help them deal with the mental and emotional pain of having leprosy. It takes a lot of inner strength to carry those burdens.

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Gyann, the clinic counsellor

Suman’s leprosy journey began when he first noticed a loss of feeling in his hands and feet and then also discoloured patches on his back. A devout Hindu, he was terrified that he had done something to upset the Gods. He was so afraid that he went to a local healer straight away. When his patches didn’t disappear and his loss of sensation only grew worse, he was in complete desperation.

“Why have the Gods done this to me, what have I done to deserve this?” he remembered thinking.

After confiding in his uncle, who directed him to the clinic to get help, Suman was diagnosed with leprosy at 50 years old. To his amazement, the doctor explained to him that the disease is curable, totally changing Suman’s outlook on what was happening to him. He started to take multidrug therapy and was soon cured.

However, Suman’s story didn’t end there. He has been in and out of the Surkhet clinic for the past 11 years, suffering with recurring ulcers, a common side effect of leprosy. Even though he has disabled hands and feet, he still has to provide for his family. As a manual labourer, he has little time to rest and little chance for his wounds to heal. Sadly, this is the case for a lot of people who are affected by leprosy. The need to earn a living and provide for their families has to take precedence over recuperation.

When I asked Suman about his future and what he hoped to do, he got very excited. His eyes widened and I could tell he was extremely pleased to tell me this part of his story. He explained he has been provided with five goats and that he has sold some and made a profit, but will rear the others and sell their milk.

It was just so wonderful to hear him so proud of what he was achieving despite his struggles.

Suman’s life has been transformed, from being full of fear and desperation, to healing, joy and excitement about what the future holds. This wouldn’t have been possible without your support. We are all playing our part to help Suman and so many others like him.

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Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1: 17b NLT

A respected wife,daughter-in-law and member of her community; Rekah had no idea how leprosy could change everything

Leprosy is a cruel disease; it robs people of their health and they are frequently denied the most basic entitlements. Often, they don’t even have a voice in their local communities. At The Leprosy Mission, we don’t think that’s acceptable, so a large part of our work focuses on justice and dignity.
 
Rekah was rejected and stigmatised because of leprosy. She told her story to Neelmani, Naini hospital’s counsellor.

‘My village is more than 100km from here, so my brother brought me. Before visiting here he took me to a private doctor who said, ‘this is leprosy and you must take her to Naini hospital’. I spent a lot of time, energy and money trying to find out what my disease was.

‘Previously I worked in the fields. That made my feet worse. I have anaesthetic hands and feet. If I get a burn I don’t realise it.

Neelmani explains that Rekah has a husband and children, but he is neglectful of his family and plays no supporting role.

‘I was taking MDT [multidrug therapy, the cure for leprosy]. After a few months I developed an ulcer and was admitted. One day at home, while I was sleeping, a cat or a rat had bitten my anaesthetic foot. It was bleeding and I was very disturbed and thought ‘I will die. Now I won’t cause any problems to anyone’, so didn’t call my brother. It became worse so I called him to bring me here. He took responsibility for me and consoled me. He said, “I’ll look after you, even though it is very difficult”.

‘I’ve had some stigma from the community because of leprosy. The family and community use bad words about me. Some relatives say “she is smelly; take her to the leprosy hospital”. Before the leprosy, everyone was normal to me. I was a good wife and daughter-in-law, everyone respected me.’ 

At this point Rekah became too distressed to continue.

Rekah found medical and emotional support at Naini hospital; without it, she would still be searching for the help she so desperately needs. If you can support our work at Naini, you will help to give leprosy-affected people back their voice, dignity and purpose.

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