Getting a village back on its feet

p9880004
Antonio, with wife Gabrielle, can work again and is now in charge of his local self-care group. Photo: Paul Salmon

Last summer, during the Feet First campaign, we introduced you to Antonio Habibu from Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique. After contracting leprosy when he was just a child, he lost all feeling in his hands and feet. This meant it became very easy for him to injure himself, particularly while working in the fields or cooking over an open fire. The ulcers he developed became infected and eventually, Antonio lost his toes. When we met him last year, he was only able to walk short distances, using crutches. He was no longer able to work and struggled to see his wife, Gabrielle, work so hard on her own.

So when Antonio received his first pair of protective sandals last autumn, he was delighted. Thanks to his new footwear, he found he was able to work again and his mobility was improved. He still needs to walk with a stick but crucially, the sandals protect his feet from further injury. He and others were provided with footwear thanks to your generosity in responding to Feet First, where every donation was matched by the UK Government and the impact of these gifts on the lives of people in Mozambique has been immeasurable.

“The sandals helped a lot and have made working in the fields much easier,” said Antonio, who is a village elder and also in charge of monitoring his local self-care group, where members meet regularly to help each other keep leprosy-affected hands and feet safe and injury-free.

Recently, we became aware that a year’s wear and tear on Antonio’s sandals had left him in need of a fresh pair. So on a visit to Nancaramo, The Leprosy Mission Mozambique’s Country Leader, Dr Arie de Kruijff, brought with him more pairs of sandals and shoes for people to try on.

p9870928
Antonio tries on shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

“Gripping the sandals because of the way my feet are can be difficult, so these shoes are much more comfortable,” Antonio said as he tried on a pair.

As two women came forward to choose shoes of their own, he said: “Some people can work without shoes. But these two would not be able to work on the farm without them.”

One of the women, 61-year-old Mariana, was so delighted with her new shoes that she danced an impromptu jig for the group.

p9880016
Mariana was also delighted with a new pair of shoes. Photo: Paul Salmon

Your support for Feet First has meant we’ve been able to identify many more people who need care and provide them with shoes and self-care training. By safeguarding them from further injury and disability, you’re helping them get back on their feet – literally and metaphorically.

During his visit, Dr Arie spotted a boy called Manuel, who appeared to have white patches on his face. He immediately examined Manuel to check whether the white patches were the first signs of leprosy.

He called to Antonio, who said: “Yes, we too spotted the white patches on the child’s face, and two members of the footcare group are looking into it.”

“That is what it’s all about, making people aware that they should react as soon as they detect any signs of the disease,” said Dr Arie. “It’s very heartening to see that the self-care group is doing exactly what we hoped it would do. It’s great that they are learning and it’s really encouraging to see the community being vigilant.”

While the difference made by a new pair of shoes is obvious and immediate, the long-term impact of the training and support offered through the self-care groups is equally important and means that more people like Manuel will be diagnosed and cured of leprosy as soon as possible.

p9880031
Dr Arie de Kruijff examines Manuel, a boy with skin patches that could indicate leprosy. Photo: Paul Salmon.

Feet First one year on: 5,000 lives changed

rs5814_img_4508-lpr
Steve Besford (left) with staff from Food for the Hungry, The Leprosy Mission’s partner in the Feet First project.

Steve Besford is our Programmes and Advocacy Officer for Africa. We asked him a few questions about his most recent trip to Mozambique and how you’re helping people there following your overwhelming response to our Feet First campaign last summer, where every gift was doubled by the UK government.

Mozambique has been a special place for you for a long time, hasn’t it?

Yes – every time I have to visit Mozambique I’m just so delighted to be back. I first went to work there in 2002 when I was taking a year’s sabbatical from my job in the aviation industry. I worked in an orphanage, with an organisation called Maforga. It was a life-changing year for me, not least because I met my wife there. She was also working at the orphanage, as a nurse. After some time back in the UK we moved back to Mozambique, this time with our children.

I’ve been based in the UK again since 2010 and was looking for an opportunity to use the expertise I gained working in Mozambique in a UK context. So when I saw my current job at The Leprosy Mission advertised it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really believe God led me to the organisation.

What was the purpose of your latest visit to Mozambique?

I went to visit the small team of staff and the communities that have been helped by UK supporters in three areas – Macomia, Chiure and Pemba. The trip also involved taking part in training workshops and teaching project support officers more about leprosy signs, symptoms and treatment. These are local people who really initiate change across the communities in which we work.

What’s life like for people living in the places you visited?

There is terrible poverty. For several months of the year – the ‘hungry months’ – people don’t know where their next meal will come from. Sanitation is lacking and drinking water is often filthy, which as you can imagine makes sickness very common. Construction of houses is very basic, which means that heavy rains can cause them to collapse. The culture is very much based around the extended family – everyone looking out for each other. Community is so important.

p1050749
Residents of a village in Cabo Delgado province. Photo: Paul Salmon.

How much of a problem is leprosy?

Cabo Delgado province, where much of The Leprosy Mission’s work is, has the highest prevalence of the disease in the whole country. It’s common to see people with clawed hands and missing toes and stigma is sadly still a huge issue. People still hide the symptoms of leprosy because they’re afraid of the prejudice they know they could experience. We’re doing all we can to change this, but it takes a long time to change deeply-held beliefs.

How has the Feet First project been making a difference so far?

Leprosy Mission staff in Mozambique are thrilled that people in the UK are enabling them to work with so many leprosy-affected communities. Leprosy is endemic in 11 out of 16 districts in Cabo Delgado so a lot of help is needed but thanks to gifts to our Feet First appeal, more than 5,000 people have benefited from the project so far in various different ways, including disability care and ulcer treatment.

We have worked with people to set up savings groups, where members pool their savings, creating a fund that they can apply to for credit if they want to set up a small business or buy new farming tools and seeds, for example. Once they have paid back the loan, the money is available for someone else to borrow.

Feet First is also training people in new agricultural techniques to improve crop yields. As more people in the communities we’re helping see their leprosy-affected neighbours benefiting from better harvests, we’re hoping that even more people will get on board, giving greater food security for everyone.

p1050385
Members of a savings group in Mozambique learn about money management and how savings can be used as microcredit to improve their lives. Photo: Paul Salmon

And what about leprosy detection? Are many people being newly diagnosed?

Yes. A new mapping initiative has already seen 80 new cases of leprosy diagnosed and treated. People are also being diagnosed due to greater awareness of symptoms. I talked to one couple who, as a result of leprosy awareness training in their village, spotted that their 18-year-old daughter had a lighter patch on her skin – one of the first signs of the disease. They took her to the local health centre where she was diagnosed and given the cure. Cases like this are such a huge step forward. Whereas once they might have been afraid for their daughter and reluctant to be seen to be going to the clinic, they now know that early treatment is the best option.

You took piles of ‘prayer feet’ decorated by UK supporters last summer on your trip. What was people’s reaction to receiving them?

They were touched that so many people so far away were thinking of and praying for them. Many people asked me to say ‘thank you’ on their behalf. I also took a ‘map’ of Mozambique decorated with prayers and messages to the Leprosy Mission office where it’s now hanging on the wall.

rs6312_dsc_0056-lpr
Prayer feet’ decorated with messages by people in the UK last summer.

uk-aid-donationsflag-4c

Stories from Nepal: Pavitra

The final installment of Partnership Manager Louise Timmins’s blogs from Nepal, where she visited Anandaban Hospital last month, meeting some of the people whose lives have been devastated by the earthquakes. Towards the end of her visit she met Pavitra, who benefited from a new house thanks to The Leprosy Mission last year.

Pavitra at the Self Care Unit at Anandaban Hospital.
Pavitra at the Self Care Unit at Anandaban Hospital.

The Self Care Unit at Anandaban Hospital is where patients affected by leprosy learn how to soak hands and feet which have lost feeling because of disease, remove dead skin and moisturise with oil. This is so important because soaked, supple skin is less likely to crack and injure. Injuries can turn in to horrendous ulcers which take months to heal. Sadly in some cases, the ulcers become so infected that amputation is the only option.

As I walked down the 360 steps from the hospital to the Self Care Unit, I could see eight or nine patients sitting and chatting together. It is fantastic that they can share experiences and encourage one another here. Only someone who has experienced leprosy first hand can really understand the horrors of the disease.

Pavitra looks on as Self Care Unit manager Kassi tends to her feet.
Pavitra looks on as Self Care Unit manager Kassi tends to her feet.

Pavitra had just soaked her feet and was having the dead skin removed by Kassi, who is also affected by leprosy and manages the Self Care Unit. We started chatting and Pavitra told me her story:

“I was sixteen when I first noticed I was losing feeling in my hands,” she said. “It was very strange and I didn’t understand what was happening. I was scared so I just ignored it and tried to hide what was happening from my family and friends.

“Luckily my parents found a husband for me and we got married. I kept the secret of my illness from my husband, but when we had a son a year later, I couldn’t hide it anymore. By this point my hands were almost useless; my fingers wouldn’t straighten and I didn’t feel it when my son grasped them. I kept burning myself when preparing meals. It was terrible. I felt so sad all the time.

“My husband was so angry – he realised I had leprosy. He threw me and our son out of the house. I was disgraced – I am from a low caste, and with leprosy too I knew I didn’t have much of a future to look forward to.

“Thankfully my mother took us in. I’m an only child and she was so good to me.

“I now live with my son and his family – I have five grandchildren so it’s a busy household. My son also ran a tailoring business from the house until recently.”

Despite the support of her family, Pavitra has faced new challenges following the earthquake at the end of April.

“When the earthquake came we lost everything,” she told me. “Thankfully no-one apart from my daughter-in-law was inside the house – she jumped out of the upstairs window to safety. Our home is gone and our income from my son’s business has gone. We are desperate.

“I feel very sad about losing my home; it was only built by The Leprosy Mission last year. I was so excited when we moved in. I’d never had a toilet in 57 years – it was wonderful! Now I wonder what will happen to us.

“We’re living in a tent; it’s really hard to manage in such a small space, especially when it’s raining.

“I am thankful for The Leprosy Mission; they treat me like family when I am here. It’s almost like coming home. I hope that God will provide me with a house for my family again. I don’t know how we will manage otherwise.”

The Leprosy Mission Nepal is currently looking at plans to start rebuilding homes destroyed by the earthquake early next year. We value your prayers as we do so and hope we will be able to partner with other organisations in Nepal to transform the desperate situations of people like Pavitra.