A ministry of reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Religious leaders in Sri Lanka meet ahead of a Puttalam interfaith leprosy event
Faith leaders meet ahead of an interfaith leprosy awareness event in Sri Lanka. L to R V Sundaran Raman (Hindu), Pastor Grashan Sanjeeva (Christian), Abdullah Mohammed Alim (Muslim), Kirologam Sudassi Thero (Buddhist) and SR Muzammil (Muslim).

In the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, National Director Peter Waddup writes of The Leprosy Mission’s part in a ministry of reconciliation there.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, a joyous day when hope and faith are renewed, the radio news delivered the devastating blow of a string of suicide bombings on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka.

A country struggling to rebuild itself following the three-decade bloody conflict that killed tens of thousands of people had been struck again, this time the minority Christian community its target. Almost 350 were killed and upwards of 500 injured.

Having visited this beautiful country and being welcomed with open arms by its wonderful people back in February, I was heartbroken.

I had witnessed, with tears in my eyes, members of the different ethnic and religious groups in this still fragile nation – Singhalese, Tamil, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu – come together with the common goal of reaching out and finding and curing people of leprosy. If left untreated, leprosy is physically devastating as well as emotionally scarring and Sri Lanka is known to have a high rate of ‘hidden‘ leprosy cases.

A decade ago, my colleague Siân Arulanantham, Head of Programmes, was praying during her first visit to Sri Lanka as The Leprosy Mission England and Wales began working in a country still reeling from conflict.

Siân said she felt God say that our work there must be about peace. This confused her as she thought ‘obviously it’s about leprosy’. But we have since learnt that we needed to bring divided religious and ethnic groups together to have a significant impact on leprosy.

Meeting our partners in Sri Lanka, I heard some incredible ‘God moments’ where people who traditionally wouldn’t be in the same room together are now working together to find and cure people with leprosy.

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Vice-President and President of the Leprosy People’s Forum for Change in Sri Lanka, Amarasinghe and Nahamani, have bridged an enormous divide to work together.

As an illustration, the President of the Leprosy People’s Forum for Change, Nahamani, 73, is a Hindu Tamil working closely with his Vice-President Amarasinghe, 38, a Singhalese Buddhist.

It broke my heart to hear how leprosy sufferer Nahamani had lost two sons in the conflict and had been treated so badly, because of deep-rooted prejudice surrounding leprosy, that he contemplated suicide. But instead he channelled his grief into leading a leprosy screening programme in more than 30 villages in the Jaffna district of Sri Lanka. In one day I had the amazing privilege of meeting five children who had been diagnosed with leprosy and cured before any damage was done to their bodies.

Almost in a modern take of the Good Samaritan, Vice-President Amarasinghe was rescued by Rev Joshua, a Tamil and someone from the very community he despised when diagnosed with leprosy back in 2015. He now gives money he can barely spare to support children from the Tamil community who he once hated.

So the word my colleague Siân received from God all those years ago is being lived out.

It all began in 2014 when The Leprosy Mission and its partners began training pastors and church leaders about leprosy, the idea being they could offer practical help and advice after delivering a service, say, on Jesus healing the man with leprosy.

Initially it was a project run throughout evangelical churches but then, amazingly, other faith communities wanted to be involved from Anglicans to Catholics and then Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.

This was hugely encouraged and resulted in nearly 10,000 people hearing about leprosy through 78 interfaith awareness events as well as another 20,640 people reached through 349 leprosy awareness Sundays. The work is growing and continues. Scores of people have been diagnosed with leprosy as a result with the sting of the disease taken out of the diagnosis for many thanks to the powerful nature of the campaign. In addition, prejudice between the communities is being broken down through new relationships and friendships formed between religious leaders.

We were devastated to learn that one of the three churches targeted on Easter Sunday – the Zion Church in Batticaloa – was where a leprosy Sunday service had been carried out in January. The blast killed 27 people, including 15 children, and injured more than 50 others.

With this catastrophic loss of life we weep as God weeps and our request for prayer is that the reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups will only grow stronger following the Easter Sunday tragedy.

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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.

Aubergine curry from Sri Lanka

This festive season, as we look towards Sri Lanka, here’s a little something that one of our partners there wanted to give back to you. One of the things that our staff often look forward to when visiting Leprosy Mission projects overseas is the wonderful variety of foods they have the opportunity to sample. And so here’s a dish from Sri Lanka, as described by Praveen Gomez from Alliance Development Trust, one of our partners working to mobilise churches to tackle leprosy. It’s his mother’s recipe, using aubergine (brinjal) for a very tasty curry.

eggplant-1Ingredients

One onion, chopped
Two cloves of garlic, chopped
Two green chilies, sliced
A handful of curry leaves
One stick of lemon grass
One piece of pandan leaf (can be substitued with bay leaves)
One tomato, chopped
Three aubergines, sliced and quartered thickly
One teaspoon of curry powder
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1/4 teaspoon of saffron
One can of coconut milk
Oil
Salt

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1. Toss the aubergine with the chopped chilies, salt and curry powder

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2. In a pan, fry the curry leaves, herbs, onion, garlic and tomato

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3. Add the aubergine and cook for a few minutes.

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4. Add coconut milk and simmer. Do not allow the aubergine to overcook.

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5. Enjoy!