Jenny’s Nepal blog: Final reflections

Blue mountains, Nepal
Blue mountains, Nepal

Saturday 22 November

God is alive and well and living in Nepal.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not being flippant. We were in church this morning and the presence of God was so strong. Apparently the Nepalese church is one of the fastest growing in the world at present. The church was filled with passionate, worshipping people.

The language is different but the people are the same. The culture and the clothes are different but the Spirit is the same. Some of the songs we recognise, some are different – but hands are raised and the Spirit is the same.

A widow just stood up and thanked the church for paying all the medical bills for her husband when he was ill. His death left her with mounting debt but the church paid it in full.

Love in action: that is what we are seeing on a daily basis, and I know it doesn’t just happen here. Mike Griffin says that he feels Anandaban is a ‘thin place’, a place where heaven meets earth. If there is a reason for that, it has to be, in my opinion, because there are so many people here ‘being Jesus’ to the people around them, and the air is filled with their prayers.

Sunday 23 November

My husband is reading a book called When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor…and yourself. A strange title but reading it has changed my perspective on how to make giving and helping the poor more effective in the long term.

As far as I understand it, the book suggests there are three ways of helping the poor. Firstly, relief, in response to an obvious crisis – like giving food, clothes and blankets. Essential, and possibly the easiest one for us as individuals to participate in.

Secondly, rehabilitation, which takes the needs of the person one step further, taking them back to where they were before the crisis by working together with them.

Thirdly, development, where the potential and the desires of the person are developed and they regain control of their lives, much like the self help groups we have seen. This type of help is relational and takes much longer to achieve as changes within communities comes very slowly and at a price to those involved.

The book also suggests that it is difficult for one organisation to achieve all three types of help. From what I have seen, The Leprosy Mission does all three very successfully.

The relief work – the first aid treatment, if you like, at Patan Hospital. The rehabilitation via reconstructive surgery at Anandaban, and the physiotherapists working to teach people how to use their hands, teaching self care, and taking control of their lives again. The development work of the self help groups which grow into cooperatives, income generating loans, scholarships for education…whatever the individual wants for their life.

The fact that The Leprosy Mission does all three may be a miracle but it is envisioned by those willing to step out and take a risk, and it is worked out over the years with patience, diplomacy and love.

What a testimony to the love of God and the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit.

Flower in the grounds of Anandaban
Flower spotted in the grounds of Anandaban Hospital

Monday 24 November

We are nearly home and I wonder how things will be different for me after such a trip. It’s a question that has been asked by all of us in the group during the last few days. Whatever the change is, will it last, and will it benefit others?

I hope so. I don’t know what the future will bring for any of us but I know my perspective on life, and what matters, has changed. Things have been brought into sharper focus whilst other things seem strangely far less important. The journal I have been writing this blog in has this phrase on the front cover: ‘Be the change’.

I guess that is the message I am taking home with me today. Whatever my or your circumstances, we can ‘be the change’ where we live and work, and across the world. Yesterday by sheer coincidence was the 57th anniversary of Anandaban Hospital opening. We had a celebratory service, and one of the staff shared a bit of the history of the place. Apparently someone in the Nepalese army had a son who had leprosy. He instigated help from the Mission so that his son could be treated. To cut a long story short, the work was founded in the forest a few miles away from Kathmandu, and they called it ‘ the forest of joy’. It all began with one man’s need. One man’s request.

Everything starts with one person. A small idea mushrooms into something large that influences millions across the world. We just don’t know what God can do with us when we are willing.

Be the change and see what He can do.

You can purchase Jenny’s paintings from her trip to Nepal, created as part of her ‘Painting A Day’ project. They’re priced at £26 plus £5 postage. Go to Jenny’s Facebook page to find out which paintings are still available and simply comment to say you would like to buy one. Proceeds go to support our work.

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Tackling gender and disability in Bangladesh

Saturday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD). Worldwide, the day is celebrated in many different ways – from talking about women’s achievements and contributions to society, to honoring female family members, to raising awareness of gender inequality and the many ways it still affects women – something that’s particularly important for the international development community. We’ve been sharing more about gender equality in the countries where we work on Twitter and Facebook this week.

The power imbalance between men and women has been a key thing for us to consider when we’ve planned many of our projects. For example, women affected by leprosy are often more vulnerable to violence from their husbands or other family members. Sometimes they have felt that sex work is their only option if they want to earn enough money to get by. And girls are more likely than boys to drop out of education and fail to finish school, let alone go on to further education or training.

In a male-dominated society like Bangladesh, women are particularly affected by poverty – especially if they find themselves heading up their households due to being widowed or abandoned by their husband, or if their husband is unable to work. This is a key concern for families affected by leprosy, where disability is common and the stigma attached to it means many women end up alone. At the same time, women are generally primary carers – for their children, for elderly parents, or for other family members with disabilities. Simply getting by can be a struggle.

Latifou received stock to set up a shop, which is proving successful. She also received some ducks and makes money from selling their eggs.
Latifou was diagnosed with leprosy ten years ago and has minor disabilities as a result. She received stock to set up a shop, which is proving very successful. She also received some ducks and makes money from selling their eggs.

For the past five years, we’ve been an integral partner in the Food Security for Ultra-Poor Women project in Bangladesh, working with 40,000 women to ensure that they can provide for themselves and their families, stand up for their rights, address their health issues, and improve their standing in their communities. The project ended in December 2013 and has been an excellent example of an initiative that not only tackles leprosy, but also addresses the numerous other problems the disease can cause. Project activities have included leprosy awareness and disability training, reconstructive surgery, measures to improve maternal health, income generation and supplying mobility aids.

Nasma's husband, Pulmia, is disabled and could not work. She received training to set up her own tailoring business. Pulmia received a prosthetic leg from TLM and is now easily able to help Nasma in their shop. The couple are making a profit and can provide for their children.
Nasma’s husband, Pulmia, is disabled and could not work. She received training to set up her own tailoring business. Pulmia received a prosthetic leg from TLM and is now able to help Nasma in their shop. The couple are making a profit and can provide for their children.

The testimonies of the women helped by the project show just how vital it is that we work with those who are most marginalised. Many spoke of being abandoned by their husbands once they developed disabilities – but earning money proved to be an empowering exercise for them. Often seen as nothing more than a burden to their family, learning a trade and setting up their own businesses meant they gained respect in their communities. In turn they found their self-confidence improved. Raising awareness of leprosy and disability proved to be an effective way of reducing stigma and for some women, meant the end of verbal abuse and being treated like outcasts.

The final report from the project is packed full of encouraging statistics showing how our work, the dedication of those who donate to us, and the determination of those we work with has transformed thousands of lives. Take a look at the infographic below to find out more!

Food Security for Ultra-Poor Women_final

Join in the International Women’s Day conversation on Twitter with the #IWD2014 hashtag, or learn more about our projects and where we work.

Sanitation matters! Why toilets are a global development priority.

World Toilet Day

Yesterday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to make access to sanitation for all a global development priority, designating 19 November as World Toilet Day.

The Assembly encouraged member states to implement policies to increase access to sanitation among the poor, and called for an end to people being forced to defecate in public, which it deemed “extremely harmful” to public health. In a statement, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said:

“This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Only 4.5 billion out of 7 billion people worldwide have access to toilets or latrines – meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation. In addition, 1.1 billion people still have to defecate in the open, and it is in the countries where this is the norm that child mortality is high and that there are high levels of malnutrition and poverty.

Lack of sanitation facilities therefore impacts many wider issues. In addition to the burden of disease and an assault on dignity, women and girls often risk rape or abuse when they have to use areas that are unsafe or unsheltered.

A woman affected by leprosy living in the slum in Ethiopia.
A woman affected by leprosy living in the slum in Ethiopia.

As part of our work in Ethiopia, Leprosy Mission staff have seen first-hand the impact that lack of access to sanitation facilities has on some of the world’s poorest people. Visiting Addis Ababa in 2012, we visited one slum with a population of 24,000 – with 500 people affected by disabilities including those caused by leprosy, where there was just one toilet for every 120 people. With no access to showers and waste disposal facilities,  people living there are severely affected by disease and child mortality is high.

Another view of the slum showing stagnant water - a breeding ground for disease.
Another view of the slum showing stagnant water – a breeding ground for disease.

Our new Slum Development project there will build new toilet blocks and renovate old ones, build new shower blocks, provide waste disposal systems, renovate houses, and provide health and hygiene training. Some of this work will also provide livelihood opportunities for residents. With enthusiastic support from the community, it’s hoped that the project will have a major, lasting impact and transform many lives.

Between 1990 and 2011, over 240,000 people a day gained access to improved sanitation facilities worldwide. But with 2.5 billion people still lacking facilities that we take for granted, the resolution adopted by the UN yesterday is an important step forward and one that we’re pleased to be supporting through our work.