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.

A life rebuilt for Gita

Gita, pictured with one of her sons, during her time as an inpatient at Anandaban Hospital.
Gita, pictured with one of her sons, during her time as an inpatient at Anandaban Hospital.

For World Leprosy Day on 25 January, we focused on our life-transforming work at Anandaban Hospital in Nepal. It was amazing to see such a fantastic response to our challenge to ‘reach to the top of Mount Everest’ and we were thrilled to make it to the summit. We asked that on World Leprosy Day, you might give a ‘helping hand’ to people like Gita, a young woman with a tragic story.

When Gita, 29, was diagnosed with leprosy, she kept the news from her husband. She was worried about how he would react, due to the terrible stigma surrounding the disease in many parts of Nepal. But when an ulcer on her foot would not heal, he wanted to know what the problem was, and she felt she had no choice but to tell him. Sadly, Gita’s husband left her and their three children.

Rejected by her husband’s family and also by her neighbours, Gita was devastated. She toiled as an agricultural labourer to provide for her family. But her foot, desensitised by leprosy,  was easily injured, making it hard to work. Her in-laws refused to support her, even though her youngest child was just a few months old.

Because of the generous support of people like you, our staff could provide a lifeline to Gita. She regularly visits Anandaban Hospital for treatment and advice on looking after her foot. And excitingly, she became a member of a local self-help group that has enabled her to set up a shop – a reliable source of income that will provide for her family and means she can work safely without injury.

Gita’s story of the rejection she suffered is particularly tragic, which is why we wanted to share the amazing update we’ve had about how things are going for her. The rehabilitation work and counselling done by staff at Anandaban often focuses on healing the hurts caused by the stigma of leprosy. They were interested to get in contact with Gita’s husband to try to break down the barriers stigma had set up between the couple.

After some time, staff from Anandaban were able to visit Gita’s husband at home and he agreed to start attending counselling and leprosy education sessions. It’s an amazing testament to their life-changing work that his attitudes towards people affected by leprosy have completely turned around. What’s more, he and Gita have been reconciled and are reunited as a couple once more, bringing up their children together and working together in the shop Gita set up in conjunction with her self-help group.

Gita’s story shows that leprosy doesn’t just cause physical damage. But there’s good news: the holistic care available from our dedicated staff and the opportunities our projects provide mean lives can be completely rebuilt – even when that seems an impossible task. Thanks to you, Gita has a happier, more secure future ahead of her – and the ‘helping hand’ you gave to people like her for World Leprosy Day means Anandaban Hospital will be able to do the same for others.

Binta, a woman severely disabled by leprosy, who is receiving help from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop in Nigeria.

A visit to Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop

Binta, a woman severely disabled by leprosy, who is receiving help from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop  in Nigeria.
Binta, a woman severely disabled by leprosy, who is receiving help from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop in Nigeria.

Steve Harknett, Programmes Officer for Africa, writes about his trip to Nigeria at the end of 2013.

‘Physical rehabilitation’: rather a dry-sounding, medical term, but one which conceals the wonderful service that is really is. Rehabilitation is actually restoration – restoring basic abilities to people who have lost them through leprosy or other disability. It’s restoration of their God-given dignity and their ability to do all the things in life that most of us take for granted.

This became very apparent to me during my recent visit to the Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop in Nigeria, which we have been supporting for the last year. Chanchaga is one of the few functioning rehabilitation workshops in the country, providing orthopaedic and mobility aids, including prosthetic limbs, orthotics, adapted shoes, crutches and wheelchairs, to people affected by leprosy.

These services are expensive and there’s need for people affected by leprosy, who are often among the poorest of the poor, to be helped to receive these services. We work with TLM Nigeria to ensure that such services are delivered to people affected by leprosy in eight states of the country.

I met several of the workshop’s beneficiaries during my visit. One woman, Binta, was at the nearby leprosy hospital getting treatment for ulcers on her right leg. Ulcers had already led to her left leg being amputated, and now her right leg also needed amputating. Binta is unable to walk at all, and can only move around by dragging herself around on the ground, getting dirty and increasing the risk of infections in the process. Everyday tasks such as going to the toilet are a tremendous ordeal for her. It’s hard to imagine a more undignified way of living.

Binta and her husband Hassan, who also has leprosy and walks with crutches, have four young children, only one of whom is in school. Binta is unable to do all the things a mother would normally do for her children, which forces the children to do domestic work and miss school as a result. Having such a severely disabled mother brings shame upon the children, and other children in the village call them ‘the leprosy children’.

Binta asked for financial assistance for the amputation operation, which is far too expensive for the family to afford. Following the operation, the Orthopaedic Workshop will give her a wheelchair. By restoring her ability to move around off the ground, the wheelchair will help keep Binta clean and avoid further health complications, and enable her to do more domestic work herself, taking some workload off her children. This will enable her to hold her head high in her community.

There are so few orthopaedic workshops in Nigeria and the reputation of Chanchaga has spread, so that other disabled people, not just those affected by leprosy, have also started coming. One such person is Yousif, a young man whose leg was amputated following a football accident. Yes, that’s right – he lost his leg through playing football. He broke his leg, and rather than seeking help from professional medical services he sought treatment from a traditional healer. The healer’s negligence caused the leg to go septic and it needed amputation to save Yousif’s life.

Yousif, whose life has been transformed by an artificial leg.
Yousif, whose life has been transformed by an artificial leg.

This young man, so proud of his physical ability and sporting achievements, has had his sporting career needlessly cut short. Everything is difficult to do when you’re an amputee, Yousif told me, plus there’s the stigma of looking different. But now with his artificial limb Yousif looks and walks like any other young man. “You would never know he had this accident,” his friend told me proudly. His pride and dignity now restored, he can now start hoping for the future again – completing his studies and marriage are on the horizon.

Nigeria is a country from where we hear so much bad news – much of the north of the country is under a state of emergency, leading to many deaths and a tragic breakdown of relations between the country’s Christian and Muslim communities, so we must pray for peace and reconciliation in this troubled nation. But we must also give thanks that The Leprosy Mission is providing a valuable service of restoration to people like Binta and Yousif, restoring their ability to walk and to move, their dignity as human beings in God’s image, and their hope for a better life in the future.