You’ve cured six year old Akira!

NTD and Research Coordinator Shabina Sadiq reflects on her recent visit to Sri Lanka.

I met Akira and her mum over a year ago when I went to visit The Leprosy Mission’s projects in Sri Lanka.

Like any child she was shy to begin with but very playful, mischievous and with a curious nature, wanting to know why so many people wanted to talk to her mum and not her. Her mum has leprosy and her dad left them when he learnt about his wife’s diagnosis. Akira was only a baby when he left and she has never seen him since.

Whilst we are talking to her mum, she mentions to the Project Officer and Doctor standing next to her my daughter has a skin patch on her upper arm”.

They immediately turn to Akira and ask to look at the patch.

It is small, the size of a finger print, but significant enough for the Project Officer to say “bring her in to the centre and we will take her for tests”.

Immediately, I find myself looking straight at Akira thinking ‘she looks fine’. Akira, oblivious to what is happening around her, looks at me smiling and pointing, as if to say let’s go and play outside.

I turn back to her mum and suddenly realise that I do not need to worry. Akira’s mum is a Leprosy Champion. I am standing beside an amazingly strong woman  who, like any mother, will fight for her child’s good health.

Over a year later I find myself back in Sri Lanka. Akira’s mum recognises me immediately and comes to shake my hand saying “it’s like meeting an old friend again”. She then points behind me.

I turn and see Akira in the distance, giggling with laughter and waving.

She has completed her MDT and looks like most happy children. She still has the mischievous look in her eye, one that at times I can relate to.

She looks healthy, loved and full of hope.

May 9 Blog
Six-year-old Akira’s future is full of hope after being cured of leprosy.

I have seen what can happen when people with leprosy receive the treatment they need quickly – this transformation is thanks to our amazing donors. It’s difficult to think about how different Akira’s life may have been if she hadn’t received the support and care she needed immediately.

Thanks to your support, our teams in Sri Lanka are able to change lives.

Thanks to you, teams in Sri Lanka are able to reach out and support people like Akira’s mum, giving them the confidence, skills and strength to overcome the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy. Leprosy Champions, such as Akira’s mum, are able support others in their communities.

You have made it possible to train local project staff so they can recognise the signs of leprosy immediately – stopping leprosy in its tracks and preventing disability.

Thanks to you, leprosy doesn’t have the opportunity to steal hope and joy from little children like Akira.

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Let’s finish what Jesus started

Today’s reflection is from Gareth Shrubsole, Senior Programme Manager at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales.

“Let’s finish what Jesus started”

This has become a big motivation for my work at The Leprosy Mission. After centuries of fighting this cruel and highly stigmatising disease it’s exciting to see that we could soon have the means to defeat it completely. That means a lot to me, that idea of progress, of doing what we can to make life better for other people, especially those who are so often ignored, rejected or even abused simply because they got an illness.

The Leprosy Mission is like a family.

We’re all quite different from each other, and some of us are even a bit strange! – But we have a common purpose and that gives us great love and friendship with all others who share that purpose, wherever in the world we find them.

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Gareth Shrubsole with colleagues from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop, Nigeria.

I do a lot of travelling in this job which is both exciting and tiring, usually to India and Nigeria. What I love is the opportunity this gives to build relationships with our global partners. After a while some of the places can start to look the same, and then it’s the people who stand out, especially when you start to see how your work is making an impact.

When you see someone lying on a hospital bed in abject suffering and then you see them again 6 months or a year later, sometimes still in the same hospital and other times back in their community; but either way looking healthier and sounding more confident, that’s really rewarding. Especially when you see the real miracles like people regaining the use of their hands after reconstructive surgery or whose sight is restored by cataract surgery.

When you meet an old woman who says she used to beg to survive, but now she’s running her own shop and has spoken out on a public stage – both to demand her rights and to encourage others like her not to succumb to the silence, stigma and shame.

When these things happen that’s when we see God’s hand in the work we do.

When Jesus walked the earth he healed people with leprosy, encouraged the broken-hearted and welcomed in the outcast, sometimes all in the course of a single day. For us mortals it’s harder and can take much longer, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you get to see such transformations happening.

We have a lot of fun in our office, there’s a lot of laughter and often cake, but – like any other office – our day to day work involves spreadsheets, reports, budgets, meetings and many hours staring at a screen. These things can easily get you down, and the commute home in heavy traffic after a long day at the office is as tedious in this job as it would be in any other.

The big difference is that it really is all worth it.

Not only do we get to work with and for so many inspiring and wonderful people, but when we do get to sleep at night we can do it with the satisfaction that we’re making a difference. That’s the real X-factor!

Help people like Avinash celebrate life again.

Today is St Patricks day. A day that celebrates the life of the patron saint of Ireland. To all our Irish friends Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit (Happy St Patrick’s day in Gaelic).

Patrick was born in Britain circa AD 387 and kidnapped as a slave at the age of 16 he was taken to Ireland. He escaped six years later but around AD 432 he heard God’s call to serve the people of Ireland and share the Good News with them and so returned to Ireland. He purportedly baptised 12,000 people in a single day near a town called Killala – what incredible favour from God!

In Luke 4:17-19 we see a story about Jesus sharing his calling:
‘and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him [Jesus]. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

This moves me to think about the people The Leprosy Mission meet every day in many countries. People who find themselves on the edges. People who find themselves hearing the ‘bad’ news of having leprosy. People trapped by folk law and the chains of stigma. Prisoners of depression and fear, people who have little hope once they hear those words… ‘You have leprosy!’. Unlike Patrick people affected by leprosy feel there is no escape, but that is where people like you and I come in to the picture.

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Avinash is from a very remote area of Nepal. He was finally diagnosed with leprosy when he was 17 years old at Green Pastures Clinic in Pokhara. He regularly attends Anandaban Hospital where he receives care for his ulcers. 

We have the opportunity of sharing the Good News – ‘Today there is a cure. Today there is hope. Today you can escape the oppression you feel. Today you can be free!’  We may not be able to say this face to face but by being generous with our gifts and by praying we can help people know the favour of God.

Today Irish people all over the word celebrate with parades and parties sharing the joy of their heritage and feeling connected to people like themselves across the globe.

We can help people affected by leprosy celebrate life again.

Together we can help people like Avinash who since being helped by people like you says… “At festival time when people gather I go with my friends and pray out loud.” He is no longer afraid to be seen or heard. He is no longer afraid to shout out loud and show the effects that leprosy has had on his body, because he is free! He can now, like others, celebrate at festivals and be an unashamed member of his culture and society.

Thank you for all that you do for people like Avinash. Thank you for hearing God’s call to proclaim Good News. Thank you.

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Avinash at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal.