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.

Mithu’s journey to a new life

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Mithu in 2013, as an inpatient at Anandaban Hospital, where she was treated for leprosy reaction.

When we met Mithu in 2013, it was four years since she had been diagnosed with leprosy and her journey to Anandaban Hospital had been a long and painful one.

Growing up in a very poor family in a remote area of Nepal, Mithu started work – as a cleaner in a hotel – at the age of 13. She had been working there for two years when she started to develop loss of feeling and swelling in her hands, which soon made her job difficult. The local health centre was not able to offer her any advice. Scared and not knowing who to turn to, Mithu was listening to the radio one day when she heard about a clinic in Surkhet District – and she decided to make the journey there in the hope of finding out what was wrong.

Travelling alone, it took Mithu three days to reach the clinic – two days of walking and a day’s bus journey. She didn’t tell her parents where she was going or what she thought was wrong with her. Then her worst fears were confirmed. Mithu was given multidrug therapy and sent away. She didn’t want to tell her parents about her leprosy, but in the end, she felt forced to. The signs of the disease had become visible – her nose had partially collapsed.

Because she had leprosy, Mithu was asked to leave her job at the hotel and had to return to her village. Once her neighbours found out about it, they began to stigmatise her.

“When I used the common tap or wash area, people would clean it before anyone else would use it. Sometimes I would not go out – I just stayed at home and cried.”

Mithu’s sister-in-law did not even want her in the family home and refused to let her touch her young son.

“Either Mithu leaves this house or I do. I will go home to my parents,” she told the family.

Mithu loved her nephew very much and was hurt that she couldn’t look after him any more. But she would not leave home and in the end, her sister-in-law made the decision to leave instead, only returning when Mithu became an inpatient at Anandaban. She was showing signs of leprosy reaction and was referred there for treatment in 2013.

At Anandaban, Mithu was diagnosed with severe leprosy reaction, which can cause intense pain, skin nodules, fever and nerve damage. It took more than a year to successfully treat the reaction and Mithu was scared about what the future could hold for her.

“At Anandaban I have made friends and have people to talk to. At home I will be alone,” she said. “While I have been away my sister has also been diagnosed with leprosy. I have cried a lot because I think it is my fault and that everyone will blame me. How much blame will I face at home when I go back? I don’t know what I will do.”

Mithu, who had never been to school, was learning to read and attending other education classes at Anandaban. She wasn’t sure what her future held but was reluctant to go back to her village due to the stigma she had faced, even though she missed her family.

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Mithu at Anandaban in 2016, where she now lives and works after finishing treatment.

Recently, we were thrilled to meet Mithu again and hear about the amazing transformation in her life since she first came to Anandaban. Now 22 and completely well, Mithu has had reconstructive surgery on her nose. She’s still living at the hospital, but this time as an employee, with her own home next to the self-care unit where patients learn to look after their leprosy-affected hands and feet.

“I clean, cut the grass, look after the animals and the garden,” she said. “I also help the patients with their self-care.”

Mithu shares her life at Anandaban with another person who has helped her find love and acceptance there – her husband. He is also affected by leprosy and has stayed on at the hospital following treatment to work at the self-care unit. They’ve been married for a year and Mithu smiled widely as she told us about their life together.

It’s clear that her time at the hospital has not only helped Mithu heal physically and emotionally, but has also given her a new purpose in life, new friends and much happiness. It’s what makes Anandaban Hospital such a special place – and why people like Mithu appreciate your support and prayers for The Leprosy Mission’s work in Nepal so much.

Find out more about the projects you support in Nepal.

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.