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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Anik, who is affected by leprosy, in hospital receiving ulcer treatment.

Affected by leprosy at just five years old

Anik, who is affected by leprosy, in hospital receiving ulcer treatment.
Anik, who is affected by leprosy, in hospital receiving ulcer treatment.

Worldwide, around ten per cent of new cases of leprosy diagnosed every year are in children. Sometimes, their leprosy is caught early, they’re given multidrug therapy (MDT) and cured before the disease takes its toll on their bodies. Sadly for 17-year-old Anik, from Bangladesh, this wasn’t the case. He developed leprosy when he was just five.

“I can remember a thorn piercing my right foot,” he said. “My parents took me to the village doctors who gave me medicine, but I reacted to it and my arms and legs swelled up.”

By the time he was eight, he had clawed hands, ulcers and extensive loss of feeling. “I didn’t understand what was happening. When I looked around and saw that no one else was going through this I began to despair,” he said.

It became difficult for him to hold a pen and he dropped out of school, ending his education. Anik’s story here is so familiar – many of the children we meet have dropped out of school due to the effects of leprosy on their hands. Often, they’re excluded by the prejudice of teachers and classmates.

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Anik’s hands.

Anik was diagnosed with leprosy around this time and given MDT, but the drugs could do nothing for his disabilities, which began to get steadily worse. He developed a deep, infected ulcer on his leg. Not knowing how to treat the ulcer, Anik’s grandmother poured hot water on it, hoping it might help. But the scalding hot water combined with Anik’s loss of feeling in his legs caused terrible burns, making the infection worse.

“I couldn’t sleep because of the pain,” he said.

It was not until a month later that Anik eventually made it to a Leprosy Mission hospital. And by then, it was too late. The infection in his leg was so bad that aged just 12, he was told it must be amputated.

“I felt horrible when they told me, but they explained very well and I knew I must accept it. After it was gone I couldn’t sit, or move from my bed,” he said, adding that he didn’t want his family to visit him because he felt so upset about what had happened.

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When he returned home after six weeks as an inpatient, Anik learned to get around on crutches, but could no longer play cricket and football with his friends. He misses being able to do the things any other teenager can do and he knows his parents are worried about his future – who will look after him when they grow old?

With extensive disabilities and little education, Anik is facing overwhelming difficulties. He still requires frequent treatment for his ulcers and needs a lot  of support.

And he’s not alone. Many young people just like him are facing an uncertain future because of the devastating effects of leprosy on their lives. Thanks to you, we’re working to get MDT to as many people as early as possible, before they suffer irreversible disabilities.

But people like Anik need more than the cure. A gift of £10 could pay for someone to attend a counselling session. £40 could pay for a course of physiotherapy. So many people affected by leprosy feel like they have no hope for the future, but with your help, we can change this. You could make a difference to someone like Anik today.

Photos: Tom Bradley

With use of her hand restored, Kyrah has big dreams for the future.

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14-year-old Kyrah has had reconstructive surgery at Anandaban Hospital

Trusts Relationship Officer Vicki Davison recently made her first visit overseas to see how you’re making a difference to people in Nepal. One of the patients she met at Anandaban Hospital was Kyrah.

My first time visiting Anandaban Hospital has been an incredible experience – both eye-opening and encouraging. I’ve been working at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales for six months now and have heard many inspiring stories of people who have been treated at Anandaban Hospital. I have also heard many reports about the staff at the hospital – their skill, expertise and genuine care and compassion for their patients.

As I climbed the 365 steps – in close to 30 degree heat and 90% humidity – from the centre where I was staying to the hospital building itself, I thought about the stories I’d been told and felt excited to visit such an amazing place. But I had no idea how touched I would be by this ‘home from home’ for patients and the incredible people who work there.

While visiting one of the wards, I met a girl called Kyrah. She stood out to me straight away. Aged 14, she is a small girl with a big, beaming smile and compassion for others that radiates from her and shows itself in everything she does.

Sat on a balcony that overlooks the lush, green hills that characterise Nepal, I chatted to Kyrah while she played with two younger children and decorated a colouring book.

It quickly became clear that Kyrah’s time at Anandaban has truly changed her life; not only has she found healing and restoration, she has also discovered new dreams for her future.

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Kyrah with her father, Binsa

Kyrah lives with her mother and father, Binsa, who is a farmer. Binsa was diagnosed with leprosy 14 years ago and was given multi-drug therapy for 2 years to cure him, but the treatment came too late. Leprosy had already damaged the nerves to his left hand and he lost all feeling in it. His hand became clawed as his fingers and thumb bent back and pointed towards his palms. When his family found out he had been diagnosed with leprosy, his sister-in-law refused to eat in the same room as him – she was scared she would catch it.

Sadly, Kyrah also developed leprosy; she was diagnosed six years ago when she was eight years old. Just like her father, leprosy caused Kyrah’s right hand to lose feeling and become clawed.

Both Binsa and Kyrah have had tendon transfer operations at Anandaban, just days apart. Binsa can now straighten his fingers and grip objects with his whole hand again – his work as a farmer will be so much easier and safer now.

The mobility in Kyrah’s thumb has been restored and, when she has healed, she will have a second operation that should give her back the movement in her fingers.  Before the operation, Kyrah struggled to do everyday tasks and couldn’t pick up objects. Now she can hold a pen and write – imagine how much better her hand will be when she’s had the second operation.

Kyrah’s experience at Anandaban has given her so much more than the joy of being able to use her hand again – it has given her new aspirations for her future. When I asked her whether she has plans for after school her face lit up, excited to tell me.

She explained how she has loved her time at the hospital so much that she now wants to become a social worker so she can help leprosy-affected people. From spending just a few minutes with her, I was sure this would be the perfect choice for Kyrah. The care and kindness she shows the other patients warms everyone around her, and I know she will bring this same joy to the people she works with in the future.

The day I met Kyrah was her last on the ward – she was due to be discharged for a few weeks before returning for her final operation. When she told me this her smile faded – she didn’t want to leave Anandaban. She said that she will really miss the staff and she feels she has found a home here. As sad as this is for Kyrah, I’m excited for her, for her next steps. Soon, she will have completed her treatment and will continue with school. She is applying for a scholarship from Anandaban to support her with her education.

One day, I’m convinced that she will be a brilliant social worker and an inspiration and encouragement to the leprosy-affected people she helps.