“STOPPING FOR THE ONE: MY JOURNEY IN INDIA” PART TWO

Vicki Davison, Partnership Advisor, reflects on her recent visit to India.

About half way through the trip, we spent a morning at Salur Hospital, the only hospital in Andhra Pradesh State that provides specialist treatment for leprosy-affected people. As we arrived, we were greeted by the hospital superintendent who showed us round several wards and explained the services offered at the hospital. Salur treats approximately 25,000 patients a year; the treatment provided for general patients subsidises the cost of care for leprosy-affected people. Specialist reconstructive surgery, eye care, ulcer care and diagnostic tests are all available for leprosy patients.

We visited a few of the wards, stopping to pray with patients and listen to their stories. Having spent some time in the men’s ulcer care ward, we were told there was one patient who we had to meet; the staff led us along the corridor into the women’s ward and she was immediately obvious. A young woman of only 20-years-old, Sadhika sat cross-legged on her hospital bed. She was quick to greet me as I sat by her, but her beautiful smile did little to mask the large discoloured patches on her cheeks and deep sadness in her eyes.

Sadhika grew up in Andhra Pradesh with her parents and two older sisters, both of whom are married. From a poor family, she has never been to school and is illiterate. A few years ago, Sadhika developed discoloured patches on her face and arms. Then, when playing with her friends, she caught her foot against a rock. Although it was badly damaged, she didn’t feel a thing. Her family began to panic – they knew something was wrong but couldn’t understand what was happening to their daughter. They took her to Vizianagaram where she was diagnosed with leprosy.

Although her family remained supportive, Sadhika became consumed with guilt and self-hatred. She spent every day terrified that someone would find out she had leprosy. She knew that discrimination because of this disease could be extreme – that she could be abandoned by her community and forced to leave her family. What would she do without them? Unable to read or write, and living under the stigma of leprosy, how would she earn money to eat? Would she have to beg, or worse? And what would happen to her sisters if their in-laws found out? Ashamed to be associated with a family tainted by leprosy, would their husbands leave? Would she ever be anything but a burden to her family? What good was a life ruined by leprosy?

Over time, Sadhika lost all sense of self-worth and became suicidal. The burden of suffering with leprosy overshadowed everything else in her life – her hopes and dreams, even her love for her family. Sadhika struggled on until one day she could bear it no longer. She planned to walk to the local train line and throw herself onto the tracks.

Thankfully something stopped her.

And it wasn’t long before Sadhika was referred to Salur Hospital for specialist treatment and counselling. When I met her, Sadhika had undergone reconstructive surgery on both of her hands to correct the deformities caused by leprosy. Her right foot was carefully bandaged up to cover the ulcer that had formed from an infected cut – a consequence of nerve damage. Although Sadhika has lost all feeling in her feet and will have to practice self-care for the rest of her life, her hands are regaining strength with regular physiotherapy exercises.

More importantly, she has found healing through counselling at the hospital and is starting to dream again.

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Sadhika at Salur Hospital, India

Sadhika’s whole face lit up as she told me how she plans to learn tailoring at our Vocational Training Centre in Vizianagaram. Clothed in a vibrant pink shalwar kameez, I could imagine her sitting behind a sewing machine, chatting and laughing with the other girls, and I couldn’t wait for her training to start.

Sadhika will stay at Salur while her ulcers heal and her hands become stronger. Then she will go to live at the Vocational Training Centre, where she will learn to read and write, and take English and computer lessons.

It was a real privilege to meet Sadhika and hear how she is overcoming the stigma, shame and physical effects of leprosy.

And I’m so excited to see her take her next step and learn tailoring at the training centre – what a transformation that will be!

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“I felt desperately sad for little Akifah and her family”

When our Head of Mission Development, Zoe Bunter visited a leprosy hospital in Nigeria last year, she wasn’t prepared for the profound emotional effect the experience would have on her.

This little girl – just 10 years old – was being treated for leprosy.

I was in Nigeria and it was a scorching hot day. I was grateful for the shade as the nurse and I entered the hospital building. We began walking through the men’s ward and then into the women’s, but I was surprised to see a little girl sitting on one of the beds.

At first I thought she was with her mother, the patient, but then I realised I was wrong. It was the other way around. This little girl – just 10 years old – was being treated for leprosy. As I went back to my room that night I felt desperately sad for little Akifah and her family.

It is so desperately unfair and unjust!

After the pain of sadness, sitting there in my room, came anger. Why is this horrific disease still attacking innocent children? Why, when their young lives are already so hard, are they the victims? It is so desperately unfair and unjust!

As I watched Akifah in the ward, I started to think of my own daughter, Molly. She used to love to dress up in her sparkly dressing-up clothes, dancing with abandon in front of the TV when Strictly Come Dancing was on, in the run up to Christmas! Akifah has had this abandon stolen away from her by the effects of leprosy.

Help make Christmas a time to celebrate for all families

This Christmas, give one extra present to that little girl or little boy who will be told they have leprosy today. A generous offering of just £24 could cure a child of leprosy, please click here.

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.