Volunteer speakers visit Nepal

The view from Anandaban Hospital
The view from Anandaban Hospital

Jenny Hawke is the youngest daughter of the late Eddie Askew, former General Secretary of The Leprosy Mission International. She’s also a dedicated supporter and volunteer speaker, who is currently visiting Nepal along with other volunteer speakers, accompanied by Regional Manager Mike Griffin. Jenny, a watercolour artist, is painting scenes from everyday life at Anandaban Hospital as part of her Painting a Day fundraising project, and has been telling us about her experiences at Anandaban so far.

“We arrived in Kathmandu late on Sunday night, welcomed by Shovakhar Kandel, the country leader at The Leprosy Mission Nepal. Anandaban Hospital is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, with ‘Fish Tail Mountain’ (Mount Machhapuchchhre) high in the distant sky. We are surrounded by bright green fields of mustard plants cut into the hillside. Houses cling at odd angles and the river rushes on and on down the valley.

“At the hospital we were overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome. The loving care given to leprosy-affected people is humbling to experience. There are so many stories, so many lives disrupted by the signs of leprosy, by serious disability, and by stigma and rejection.

“I am completely at home here, and privileged to hear the stories of courage and strength, with no trace of anger or bitterness about hardships endured. There is sadness, yes, but now there is hope.”

Parvati knits while her friend Laxmi holds a hat she has knitted.
Parvati knits while her friend Laxmi holds a hat she has knitted.

“Today I met a 23-year-old woman on the surgical ward. Her name is Parvati and she has a smile that can light up the room. She has lost all fingers and most of both feet. She developed leprosy at 12 years old and living in a remote area of Nepal, didn’t know treatment existed. She continued to work in the fields and at home, gradually developing serious nerve damage in both hands and feet. By chance she heard a message on her radio about treatment for leprosy. She persuaded someone to carry her on their back in a basket to the outpatient clinic, several hours away from her home. At this point she had been unable to walk for six years.

“She was then taken to Anandaban where she has received treatment, as well as specialist shoes which means she will be able to walk again. Sadly though, it is too late for her hands, which have been irreversibly affected by the disease.

“However, in the time Parvati has been at Anandaban, she has learned to read, write and do maths, and has learnt the skill of knitting. Even with her disabilities, she can knit, and she hopes that she will be able to sell the things she makes.

“Another life changed, another story heard. Hope continues to grow in this wonderful place.”

Jenny will continue to update us on the trip as she and the group visit some of our other projects in Nepal.


Tackling gender and disability in Bangladesh

Saturday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD). Worldwide, the day is celebrated in many different ways – from talking about women’s achievements and contributions to society, to honoring female family members, to raising awareness of gender inequality and the many ways it still affects women – something that’s particularly important for the international development community. We’ve been sharing more about gender equality in the countries where we work on Twitter and Facebook this week.

The power imbalance between men and women has been a key thing for us to consider when we’ve planned many of our projects. For example, women affected by leprosy are often more vulnerable to violence from their husbands or other family members. Sometimes they have felt that sex work is their only option if they want to earn enough money to get by. And girls are more likely than boys to drop out of education and fail to finish school, let alone go on to further education or training.

In a male-dominated society like Bangladesh, women are particularly affected by poverty – especially if they find themselves heading up their households due to being widowed or abandoned by their husband, or if their husband is unable to work. This is a key concern for families affected by leprosy, where disability is common and the stigma attached to it means many women end up alone. At the same time, women are generally primary carers – for their children, for elderly parents, or for other family members with disabilities. Simply getting by can be a struggle.

Latifou received stock to set up a shop, which is proving successful. She also received some ducks and makes money from selling their eggs.
Latifou was diagnosed with leprosy ten years ago and has minor disabilities as a result. She received stock to set up a shop, which is proving very successful. She also received some ducks and makes money from selling their eggs.

For the past five years, we’ve been an integral partner in the Food Security for Ultra-Poor Women project in Bangladesh, working with 40,000 women to ensure that they can provide for themselves and their families, stand up for their rights, address their health issues, and improve their standing in their communities. The project ended in December 2013 and has been an excellent example of an initiative that not only tackles leprosy, but also addresses the numerous other problems the disease can cause. Project activities have included leprosy awareness and disability training, reconstructive surgery, measures to improve maternal health, income generation and supplying mobility aids.

Nasma's husband, Pulmia, is disabled and could not work. She received training to set up her own tailoring business. Pulmia received a prosthetic leg from TLM and is now easily able to help Nasma in their shop. The couple are making a profit and can provide for their children.
Nasma’s husband, Pulmia, is disabled and could not work. She received training to set up her own tailoring business. Pulmia received a prosthetic leg from TLM and is now able to help Nasma in their shop. The couple are making a profit and can provide for their children.

The testimonies of the women helped by the project show just how vital it is that we work with those who are most marginalised. Many spoke of being abandoned by their husbands once they developed disabilities – but earning money proved to be an empowering exercise for them. Often seen as nothing more than a burden to their family, learning a trade and setting up their own businesses meant they gained respect in their communities. In turn they found their self-confidence improved. Raising awareness of leprosy and disability proved to be an effective way of reducing stigma and for some women, meant the end of verbal abuse and being treated like outcasts.

The final report from the project is packed full of encouraging statistics showing how our work, the dedication of those who donate to us, and the determination of those we work with has transformed thousands of lives. Take a look at the infographic below to find out more!

Food Security for Ultra-Poor Women_final

Join in the International Women’s Day conversation on Twitter with the #IWD2014 hashtag, or learn more about our projects and where we work.

International Women’s Day 2013: Vidya’s story

Vidya, a woman affected by leprosy

Since 1909, International Women’s Day has been celebrated as a way of honouring women and celebrating their achievements. But it’s also a day to think about the inequality and injustice that is a fact of life for women the world over, and underline the importance of gender equality as a key area of development and human rights. This is reflected in the fact that the third Millennium Development Goal is “Promote gender equality and empower women”.

A diagnosis of leprosy can make life especially challenging for women in developing countries, who are often the hardest hit by poverty and deprived of many basic human rights. Vidya, 28, from India, is one such woman.

Five years ago, she thought she had received her ticket out of poverty when she was given a loan to set up a small business selling material. But due to the fact her hands had become “clawed” by leprosy, people would not buy from her – just one example of how people affected by leprosy are stigmatised and treated as outcasts by their communities.

Needing to feed herself and her mother, Vidya felt her only option was sex work. She started to open up her shop in the evenings, waiting until it was dark so that her customers would have drank enough alcohol not to notice the appearance of her hands and feet. By working as a prostitute, Vidya put herself at risk of HIV and violence every day.

The Leprosy Mission is now helping Vidya to piece together her life, providing her with training so that she can earn her living in a different way. She’s just one of the thousands of women the Mission helps empower each year by offering them access to education, training, and employment.

For example, with part funding from the European Commission, The Leprosy Mission partnered with other charities to implement its ‘Food Security for the Ultra Poor’ project to provide 40,0000 women–headed households in Bangladesh with an income. Employers tend to hire men and the most physically able, leaving many women and people with disabilities malnourished and homeless.

Head of Programmes Coordination at The Leprosy Mission, Sian Arulanantham, said:  “It is always heartbreaking to witness the effects of poverty but it is often the women who are the most badly hit and have to suffer the worst degradation.

“Leprosy does not discriminate between the sexes but it does target those who are poorly-nourished and live in squalid conditions.  As well as addressing health and housing needs in leprosy-affected communities, we are passionate about ensuring women and girls are given a good education and the skills required to lift them out of poverty.”

With your help, the lives of women like Vidya can be transformed. Visit The Leprosy Mission’s website to donate or give a Gift For Life.