Postcards from the Himalayas

Some months back I had the privilege of visiting a leprosy hospital with one of the counsellors, Helen*. I was so moved by meeting these patients that I had to share.

From a Partner in Nepal

Basanta* is a young woman (aged 26) who lives in a very remote part of the hilly western region. She has grossly deformed hands and feet; she had been aware of changes in her limbs for 13 years but did not know where to go for help. She heard on FM radio a description of her disease and a phone number to contact. Not having learned to write, she recorded the number on her phone. When she contacted the number, she learned of a mobile medical camp being held. She was helped to this camp where she was told about leprosy and her need for long-term medication and good care of her limbs to avoid further damage. Leaving her family and all that was familiar, Basanta travelled hours and hours by bus to reach the hospital. That was just a few days ago. Since then, along with medical treatment and care, this beautiful young woman has taken the opportunity to begin to learn to read and write, her pencil held by a stump of a finger. Sometimes a teacher is able to visit the ward. Other times, fellow patients use their spare hours reading to those who cannot read or helping them to learn to write their name and the alphabet. She also is enjoying the fellowship meetings held for patients.

There was another man (aged 53) – I did not catch his name –who also came from a very remote area. He had a below-the-knee amputation due to disease. His three daughters are all married and have left his home; only his wife is waiting for him there. He came seeking help as he realised that although he had only a ‘sore’ on his foot that he continually damaged, it could be leprosy. Even now, in phone calls to his wife explaining that he had an amputation, he did not speak the dreaded word ‘leprosy’ so as to avoid the stigma and exclusion people with this disease still often experience. He smiled gently as he explained that he had some land that he could pay others to work now that he was not able and that he had a hand-turn sewing machine and could earn some income that way. This man’s face beamed as he shared all this with Helen this morning.

Astha* was seated on a wooden stool on wheels from which she was carefully spreading the sheet and folding the quilt as she made her bed. Her leg had been recently amputated below the knee. Wounds and damage, occurred because she had no sensation of pain due to the disease, could not be healed. She was missing her three-year-old daughter, who was being cared for by her sister. How would she cope when she returned to her home in a big town on the plains south of the mountains? It is hot and very wet at this time of monsoon. Her home is a small room and water floods in during storms. Although the family has lived there for a long time, they do not have any paper of ownership. She uses a neighbour’s toilet that is some distance away and the nearest tap is at another neighbour’s. Her husband, also a sufferer of this disease, earns a meagre salary as a rickshaw driver and Astha tends a very small vegetable patch. She related that through all these struggles she has a growing faith in God that gives her great peace. Helen gently placed her hand on the bandaged stump of Astha's leg and prayed for good healing and trust in God to provide for her future.

*Names have been changed