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.
Gifts left in Wills account for a third of our income, funding one in four life-transforming projects. Read on to learn more about Samir, a graduate of Bankura Vocational Training Centre (VTC), who despite being diagnosed with leprosy at 16 has gone on to become a successful businessman.
Samir is 36 years old and lives in Bankura, India with his wife and two daughters, aged twelve and four. 20 years ago, when Samir was just 16, he noticed light patches on his skin and was told to go to Hospital. It was there he received the diagnosis – leprosy. As a young boy Samir found his diagnosis embarrassing and was very worried about what the future would hold.
Thankfully, Samir’s leprosy was found and treated at an early stage and so he did not develop any disabilities. After he had completed 2 years of MDT treatment the Government Hospital told him about Bankura Vocational Training Centre (VTC). The VTC provides training to approximately 150 young people affected by leprosy or disability, enabling them to access employment and become financially independent after graduating. Samir took the advice of the Hospital and went to Bankura VTC where he trained to be a mechanic.
When we visited Samir recently, it was great to see how he has turned his life around. He now runs a thriving motorcycle repair business and employs seven people. Samir said that if he hadn’t had the opportunity to train at Bankura VTC then he would have had to go into cultivation work or would be sitting idle at home.
Samir’s success shows how a small investment in someone can help them transform their lives. Thanks to the training Samir received he was able to set up his own business and is financially independent – something he would not have thought possible when he was diagnosed with leprosy at a young age. He has a total income of 40,000 rupees a month (around £460) and uses 12,000 of this to pay his seven employees. He is already giving training to other students and would like to expand his business as much as possible in the future.
When asked at Bankura he said, “Bankura is helping people to set up in the community.”
Leaving a gift in your Will can help more people like Samir escape the devastating effects of leprosy, providing hope for the future. For more information please click here.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Regional Manager Jarrett Wilson reflects on his recent visit to Nigeria.
Imagine a destitute community with unsafe buildings amidst uncollected rubbish, ravaged by unemployment and disease. The air is heavy, thick with heat. Dust kicks up as motorcycles travel past uneven, pothole-riddled lanes. Behind the haze are similarly dishevelled houses, banked onto decaying slopes. There are piles of litter everywhere, while streams of dirty water snake through junctions and behind walled corners. Wherever water and rubbish meet, stray dogs come panting for relief from the relentless heat as they scavenge restlessly.
That’s Dakoko, a slum neighbourhood in Minna, Nigeria, where people affected by leprosy strive to live alongside those without the disease, themselves marginalised and outcast.
But no-one wants to eat the food they cook, and few make any attempt to bridge the divide and befriend someone with leprosy. Those living here with this disease are outcasts in a community of outcasts, another example of how we see, again and again, that people affected by leprosy are the poorest of the poor.
Among them sits a 70-year-old man, sheltered in the dark of his tiny home. His name is Zachary, and he has been afflicted with leprosy since the 1960s. Cured of the disease, but with no sensitivity in his extremities, the ravages of the bacteria are evident in the stumps ending each of his arms and legs. Zachary no longer has any fingers. His feet are gone. His ulcers slowly weep into thick bandages, prepared and regularly applied by Leprosy Mission staff.
Beside him sits one of his only friends, Ali, who is also affected by leprosy. His hands are clawed, making it difficult for him to work, but he has newfound purpose as informal carer for Zachary. Now in his 40s, leprosy snatched his life as a herdsman away. Friends shunned him. His wife deserted him.
The Leprosy Mission came to his aid and cured him of the disease, but they are still working daily to help his sense of despair and prevent his disabled hands and feet from developing further problems.
Sitting before them both, the temptation is to feel numb, to succumb to the same cynicism sometimes encountered when leprosy callously steals one’s opportunities and ambitions. There is no ‘quick fix’ for their problems. But to give into cynicism would betray Jesus, whose face appears so starkly and formidably on the faces of Zachary and Ali. The words of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 25:40, offer a challenging corrective: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.
We choose to look into the faces of Zachary and Ali, and to see Christ. In that moment, the heat and dirt, the sweat and grime condense into a fixed point, claimed by and for Christ. When as we clothe and feed and visit and care for these neglected among neglected, we do it for Jesus.
In a tiny, dark corner of Dakoko, the healing ministry of Jesus is being birthed again.
As you pray this week, please remember Zachary and Ali and pray
that people affected by leprosy in places like Dakoko are embraced by the communities in which they live
that The Leprosy Mission would encounter open doors to bring education and awareness to marginalised communities about the facts of leprosy, raising awareness and combating stigma
that all work carried out by staff and volunteers there would demonstrate the love of Jesus