Dr Helen Roberts speaks with Rajeev

For Rajeev, the cure for leprosy is a gift more precious than gold

Lizzy Standbrook recently accompanied a medical outreach team to a remote area of West Bengal, India, on a mission to find and help people who would otherwise have no access to medical care.

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Docking at one of the remote villages in West Bengal where medical outreach teams travel to find new cases of leprosy

On the day we met Rajeev, it took nearly all day for the outreach team from Premananda Hospital to travel by train, jeep and boat from Kolkata to his village.

Leprosy hides in remote villages like the one where Rajeev lives. There is no medical care readily available and people live a hand to mouth existence. For most of them, affording the journey to a clinic or hospital further afield is unthinkable. There is little awareness of the symptoms of leprosy. And so cases of the disease often go undetected, with devastating effects.

My overwhelming feeling is how exhausting running these clinics must be for Dr Helen Roberts, Superintendent at Premananda, and her team. In addition to treating the hundreds of people turning up every day, there is all the packing and unpacking, carrying cases of supplies, lifting them in and out of cars and boats. That day some of this was done as torrential rain fell and thunder crashed overhead.

Setting up the outreach clinic in Rajeev's village
Setting up the outreach clinic in Rajeev’s village

Opening up their outreach clinic in a disused school building, Dr Helen and her colleagues set up tables and unpacked boxes of medication. One desk for eye problems, another for diabetes cases, a big problem in the region – and a desk for skin issues, where people with suspected leprosy would be seen. A crowd quickly began to gather and I soon understood why – no doctor had visited the village for ten years.

Incredibly, 300 people came to the clinic that day – more than we had ever expected. People queued around the room. Suddenly, we were called over to Dr Helen’s table. She was examining the torso of a man – Rajeev – who had arrived with his 12-year-old daughter. Straight away I noticed the tell-tale patch of lighter skin covering some of his chin. Dr Helen pointed out lesions on his arms and showed us that Rajeev’s daughter had them too.

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Dr Helen Roberts speaks with Rajeev

Rajeev told us that he didn’t live far from the clinic and that he was worried about his wife and other children. Could they all have leprosy? There is certainly a risk to other members of a family once one member has the disease. Dr Helen decided that we would visit their home once the clinic was finished so she could examine everyone. If she had reason to believe that Rajeev’s wife and children had leprosy, the whole family would be taken back to Premananda Hospital for treatment.

Rajeev could never have afforded the cost of the journey to hospital in Kolkata and this is why so many cases of leprosy  never receive the treatment they desperately need to prevent disability. But thanks to the dedication and servant hearts of Dr Helen and her team, people like Rajeev receive the precious gift of the cure, stopping leprosy from ravaging their bodies.

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Dr Helen examines one of Rajeev’s daughters at the family’s home

They are so committed, going where no other medical professionals will go, caring for people who are marginalised and often so stigmatised due to the prejudice surrounding leprosy. For people like Rajeev, they are a lifeline – and I was in awe of how far they would go to make a difference.

This Christmas, support Dr Helen and her team as they reach more people like Rajeev with an incredible gift. A gift from you of £24 could find and cure someone before leprosy can do its worst, changing their life forever. Please help today.

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An update from Purulia Hospital

As you know, Purulia Hospital in West Bengal has been through many changes in the last year. From the exciting developments in the new Out Patients’ Department (OPD) – made possible by your wonderful support and faithful prayers – to changes in the team who serve our leprosy-affected brothers and sisters.

Earlier this year, after many years of incredible commitment to the hospital, God led Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima Darlong into the next step of their journey. Their hearts have always been to heal leprosy-affected people and see their lives restored, and both have stayed true to this calling.

Now the Head of Knowledge Management and Head of Healthcare for The Leprosy Mission in India respectively, Dr Joydeepa manages leprosy research, training and sharing of knowledge across all of our teams in India, and Dr Famkima oversees TLM’s 14 hospitals and medical camps throughout the country.

Dr Joy & Fam
Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima Darlong

The couple relocated to Delhi, where they live with their daughter, and now their reach is wider and greater than ever. Often involved in medical conferences, they are positioned perfectly by God to improve healthcare in India and to influence the global fight against leprosy and disability.

Both Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima often go back to Purulia to visit the team and patients during their weekends. The hospital will always hold a special place in their hearts but they know they are in the centre of God’s will for their lives – and there is no better place for them to be.

Our new Superintendent at Purulia

Across the worldwide Leprosy Mission family, we are so excited for Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima, and equally delighted to welcome our new Superintendent for Purulia Hospital, Dr Ujjwal Hembrom.

Vicki Davison, Partnership Officer at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales, had the privilege of speaking to Dr Ujjwal recently and wanted to share with you his vision for Purulia and his faith in God:

“I was born and brought up in a small village called Ambajora in Jharkhand province, around 200 km from Purulia. I grew up in a Christian home; my maternal grandfather was a pastor and my faith in God has been the focal point of my life.

My daughter is a doctor, working with me at Purulia, and my son is studying journalism. My wife is home maker – she binds us all together as a family. I never wanted to be a doctor! I planned to be an engineer, but God called me into a career in medicine. I spent 11 years working at a mission hospital run by Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church, close to my home in Jharkhand, before joining The Leprosy Mission’s Purulia Hospital in 2001.

Dr Ujwall and his daughter
Dr Ujjwal with his daughter

I worked at Purulia from 2001-2005, so re-joining earlier this year was like coming home. Many of the staff I first worked with are still serving at the hospital and we share fellowship in morning devotionals, and a weekly time of worship and Bible study at one of our homes.”

“There is something very special about Purulia and I believe it comes from our
team’s heart and commitment to God. Most of our staff here are from leprosy-affected families so their love for our patients is real. They are full of understanding and compassion. Our team’s heart is not to earn more money but to serve. This is what I believe has taken Purulia Hospital from strength to strength over the years. I have seen God move and bless us as our team put Him at the centre of everything we do.”

Vision for Purulia

“The reputation of Purulia extends far beyond West Bengal state. It is known for being a refuge and a place where every patient is given quality medical care and treated with dignity. Leprosy is not just a medical disease so we support each patient with holistic treatment – that’s what they deserve.

Leprosy will always be our focus, but I plan to expand and improve our services in other areas. We will add a specialist service in orthopaedics, increase general disability support, and expand the treatment available for patients suffering with neglected tropical diseases.”

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Purulia Hospital, West Bengal

“My heart is that Purulia will continue to be home to people who have been outcast and abused. Anyone can come and they will be cared for, loved and respected.

Our team will continue to do everything we can for leprosy-affected people, and we will continue to put God first.”

 

 

Stopping for the one: my journey in India

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

My first time in India

“I never knew that a job could give me family around the world. I’ve been working at The Leprosy Mission for nearly two years now and, with my family here, I’ve laughed, cried, learned, and been both humbled and deeply moved. These people are the reason I get out of bed at 7.30 every morning when my alarm goes off…well, if I’m being honest, it’s more like 8am – I’m not a morning person! But it’s my brothers and sisters who are affected by leprosy, and our wonderful team overseas, who challenge, motivate, and inspire me to do what I do every day.

I recently had the privilege of meeting a few members of our worldwide family in person, during my first trip to India. Along with ten of our supporters from the UK, I had an incredible week visiting our projects in Andhra Pradesh. I wanted to share some of my experience with you…

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I’m still processing everything I heard, saw and experienced, but not for the reasons I expected. I’d been told about the vibrant aroma of spice stalls in the market, the vivid blend of colours as women dressed in sarees pass by, and the cacophony of engines revving and horns beeping as motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and lorries veer across the road, all vying for space across several lanes of unordered traffic.

I will probably never forget the scenic landscapes of lush rice paddies and tea plantations interspersed with small village communities.

But the images that are truly burned into my mind are the faces of the people I met; it is them and their stories that will have a lasting impact on me.

Rainbow Children’s Home

Our first visit was to Rainbow Children’s Home in Vizianagaram. Many children living in this area are orphaned or abandoned because of leprosy or HIV and have nowhere to go but the railways; they shelter in the stations and scavenge on the tracks. Staying in a station may sound safe, but the conditions there are unimaginable. Human faeces litter the floor and rats infest the platforms. Noise is constant as announcements blare and trains speed past, their carriages banging and clattering. Night time is the worst. As darkness sets in, the children are left vulnerable and unprotected as they try to sleep.

No child should be left in such danger, but for these children there is simply no other choice.

Brighter Future, one of The Leprosy Mission’s partners, responded to the needs of these children by setting up the Rainbow Children’s Home in 2004. There, the team care for 80 children, around 50 of whom are leprosy-affected.

I’d heard stories about the home and seen countless pictures of the children, but nothing compared to being there in person. Although some were shy at first, it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by little ones grasping for my hands, and older girls, still in their uniforms, introducing themselves and telling me about their day at St Ann’s school.

We sat together in their new dining area – a beautifully clean, tiled room – and listened to stories from some of the older children. Many explained how they had first come to the home more than ten years ago and were now studying at college, hoping to one day become teachers, nurses and engineers. As I glanced from the wide-eyed, curious faces of the little ones – some no more than five-years-old – to the young people standing confidently in front of us, it was impossible not to feel inspired.

I was surrounded by so many little lives that had once been written-off and cast aside, but were now filled with hope and potential because of the commitment of the team here, and the incredible generosity of supporters like you.

One boy who stood out to me was six-year-old Raju. Last year, our team found him and his older brother Prashant starving and alone on the streets, abandoned by their family.

A few years ago, their dad was diagnosed with leprosy. When Raju’s mother found out, she deserted her family; none of them have seen her since.

Despite struggling with a disabled foot caused by leprosy, Raju’s father worked as a labourer in the local fields to try and provide for his sons. Tragically, in his sadness he became an alcoholic, spending anything he earned on alcohol and sleeping wherever he fell. Raju and Prashant were left to fend for themselves, wandering naked in the streets and begging for food.

Thankfully, one of our team found them and brought them to the home.

My heart felt heavy listening to Raju’s story. I couldn’t imagine the confusion and heartbreak these two young boys must have felt as their mother disappeared and they watched their father become consumed by alcohol. I could hardly bear to think about their fear as they wandered the streets desperately searching for food, and slept unprotected in the darkness.

Little Raju’s beautiful smile hides a story filled with suffering that no child should ever face, but when we met I saw a sparkle in his eyes. He played confidently with the other kids at the home, and he is regularly attending school with his brother Prashant; they have become inseparable.

Raju told us how he loves school and dreams of one day becoming a pilot.

Thanks to support from people like you, Raju’s next big challenge is not to search for food or try to survive a night on the streets; it is to learn to ride a bike!”

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Raju (left) with his brother Prashant