At just seven years old, Anil has already faced so much
Shabina Sadiq found her first visit to Leprosy Mission projects in Sri Lanka to be a deeply affecting experience. Read on as she tells her story.
My trip to Sri Lanka was my first overseas visit since starting work at The Leprosy Mission this year. I knew it would be eye-opening, but I'm not sure I was prepared for just how much it would affect me.
One of the key people I met on the trip was Rev Joshua, director of Kaveri Kala Manram (KKM), one of our partner organisations in Sri Lanka. He took us on a visit to a small village called Kristokulam to meet the residents, many of whom are affected by leprosy. While there, we were introduced to Diaya - a teacher at the local school - and some of her students.
Diaya started to tell us a little about what life is like for children in Kristokulam. She explained that around half the children in her class of 34 students have been diagnosed with leprosy - a shocking statistic even in Sri Lanka, which in 2015 had the highest rates of new child cases of leprosy of any country in the world*. Then, she introduced us to Anil, a seven-year-old boy who has recently been diagnosed with the disease.
Anil was a shy boy who kept looking at his feet as he constantly touched at the leprosy patch on his face - a patch of lightened skin that he was obviously very self-conscious about. It struck me how thin he was, so we asked Diaya whether the children were getting enough to eat.
"Their families don't have enough food," she told us, "So they might only be eating one meal a day."
The school has been trying to help the children by providing them with a meal of lentils every day but I was shocked to see how small a portion they were being given. It's all the school can afford.
"Malnutrition and leprosy make the children constantly weak and tired," said Diaya. "They're unable to concentrate in class and it affects their learning."
Many of the children are taking multidrug therapy (MDT) to cure their leprosy. They need to be strong so their bodies can fight the disease and that means they need good nutrition. But with food as scarce as it is, that's not easy.
Like many children in the region, Anil's father went missing during Sri Lanka's recent civil conflict and has never returned. Rev Joshua told us that Anil continues to be deeply affected by this. When I asked Anil about his hopes for the future he explained that he wants to be a policeman because he then might one day be able to find his dad.
It broke my heart to hear what had happened to Anil when he was diagnosed with leprosy: his mother and stepfather completed rejected him and threw him out of the house. I'm very close to my young nephews and it upset me so much to think of what it would be like for them to be shunned by their own family.
Thankfully, Anil's grandparents took him in and are doing the best they can for him, but life is hard for them. His grandmother is disabled as a result of leprosy so she finds it difficult to carry out everyday tasks like cooking. They have no income - and so every day Anil relies on the small meal from the school food programme.
That's why, this winter, you can do something amazing for Anil and children like him. We want to provide them with parcels containing food packed with essential nutrients that will help them grow strong as they take the medication they need to cure their leprosy.
It costs just £7.50 to buy a food parcel lasting a month - an opportunity to start making a huge difference in the life of a child like Anil. We need to act now to ensure a brighter future for these children. They urgently need our help.
I left Kristokulam with a heavy heart. There is so much more than leprosy affecting children like Anil - hunger, rejection, the loss of loved ones. In just seven years Anil has had to go through so much. But together, we can help him and his classmates turn their lives around.