Jenny’s Nepal blog: fellowship and a clinic visit

Fellowship meeting for staff and patients
Fellowship meeting for staff and patients

Tuesday 18 November

Our second week is flying by but I can’t stop thinking about the strength of the women here. They have such hard lives, doing the manual labour in the fields, working on road repair, having children and in sole charge of their households. Add on the leprosy damage they suffer and you begin to see the strength of the survival spirit. It puts my everyday complaints and stresses into perspective.

A group of Nepalese women
A group of Nepalese women

Yesterday was a quieter day after the long journey into the hilly region to see the self help groups the day before. We had the enormous privilege of being in the operating theatre watching Dr Indra perform reconstructive surgery on a 59-year-old woman with badly damaged hands. It seems Dr Indra will always find a way of improving things if it is at all possible. This lady had very bent and damaged fingers but he saw potential in her left thumb. In the space of one and a half hours, he had performed a tendon transfer which made it possible for the thumb to move towards the fingers so she could hold something or pick something up. You try picking anything up without using your thumb!

Throughout the operation there was a quiet and respectful calm shown to the patient who at times was showing a little concern (she had had a nerve block rather than a general anaesthetic so was awake though mildly sedated throughout). Patients are treated with a love and respect that is an incredible example.

Later in the evening we attended the staff and patient fellowship meeting. The room was crowded with not only the staff but also were many patients who I recognised, all either with a strong faith, or others obviously exploring theirs. We had a wonderful time singing songs accompanied by the tabla, a Nepalese drum. Four of our group shared about their faith, and then back to the house by bus. There are leopards around so it was suggested that would be safer rather than a walk back through the wooded area! My husband Peter, after we had been told what to do if we were confronted by a leopard, suggested that rather than holding both arms up and shouting loudly, he would hold up one arm and take a picture with the other. We thought that might be the last picture he took!

Patient at Patan Clinic
Patient at Patan Clinic

Wednesday 19 November

Today we visited the leprosy clinic at Patan Hospital which is a government hospital that welcomes The Leprosy Mission every Wednesday to hold a day’s clinic there . The aim of the clinic is not only to pick up any new cases of leprosy which need diagnosing but also to give ongoing care to those already affected by leprosy. People also attend with general skin complaints.

The Mission works with a quiet but powerful efficiency such that a new case can move from the registration desk, to the diagnosing doctors, the smear test and biopsy section, the ulcer clinic, blood tests,and then to the physio area for sensory and muscle testing. All done in one day.

Everyone who turns up (there is no official appointment system) will be seen. No one is ever turned away. A humbling experience to be part of. I don’t think I will ever forget the people I have met here, both medical staff and patients. And a small amount of money can go such a long way here. Please keep giving and supporting TLM’s work – this is only one of so many centres across the world.

The lady in the painting was admitted to Anandaban, as so many are, for care to her ulcerated foot . She needs treatment, drug therapy and rest, all of which she will receive at no cost to herself.

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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.