Nepal visit was a ‘life-changing’ experience for volunteers

A group of volunteers who visited a leprosy hospital in Nepal say the experienced has been ‘life-changing’.

They were all aware that it is one of the poorest countries in the world, nevertheless, they admit to being shocked by the extent of the poverty they witnessed.

A volunteer speaker for The Leprosy Mission England and Wales Christine Sugden,, from the Isle of Man said:  “I knew I would see poverty, patients who have leprosy and the devastation caused by last April’s earthquake.

 “But, knowing it and seeing it are different:  the reality of what you are faced with is something for which you can never quite be prepared.” 

The 64-year-old retired Library and Information Services Manager said she was very upset to see the poor living conditions of people whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake.

But what left her amazed was how cheerful the people were despite the trauma they had faced, loss of property and livelihoods and lack of any meaningful rebuilding.

She said: “They were so resilient, it was touching. They had a smile on their face and greeted us with such enthusiasm. They were so keen to thank us for the work of the charity.”

During their two-week trip thevolunteers stayed at Anandaban Leprosy Hospital’s Training Centre, in Lalitpur, and met patients and staff. 

Retired HM Revenue and Customs officer Mavis Littleford, from Wolverhampton, said: “It was a culture shock. Families had lost their homes, livelihoods and everything they had. What was so amazing was they still wanted to share with us the little they had. 

 “I met so many people who had such a tough life, but they just carry on with a smile on their face.” 
And Dave Hargitt, 66, from Gleadless, in Sheffield, described the visit as “an eye opener”.

He said: “It’s not what I’d expected. There was so much poverty. People in the hilly regions where the poorest of the poor, yet they seemed content. 

“What amazed me even more was that in the hospital’s leprosy wards even the people who had horrendous disabilities had a smile on their face.

 “For many of them the hospital was like their family. They had experienced so much stigma in their own communities that the hospital was the place where they found acceptance.

“I cannot get over the smiles and their happiness. They were poorest of the poor who had nothing, yet they had everything. I was so humbled to be there.

“The place is poor and dirty but when you meet the people you forget all that. We were greeted with flowers and garlands: the welcome was memorable.

“It was my first visit to any Asian country. I had no idea what to expect. Now I have huge admiration for the people of Nepal.”

Leprosy is a chronic infection caused by the germ micobacterium leprae. It usually thrives in places of extreme poverty where there is malnutrition and poor hygiene and sanitation. 

The first outward sign is usually white patches where there is no feeling.  If left untreated it can lead to the muscles in hands, legs and face becoming paralysed as a result of nerve damage. That can make it difficult to straighten fingers (clawed hand) or to raise toes off the ground when walking (dropped foot) or even shutting eyelids and eventual blindness.

Leprosy is easily curable with multidrug therapy – a combination of three antibiotics clofazimine, dapsone and rifampicin. Yet the stigma of the disease stops people from seeking treatment leading to disabilities. More than three million people worldwide live with leprosy-related disabilities.

In 2014 there were 213, 899 new cases of leprosy diagnosed around the world (source: World Health Organisation).

 

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