Marika’s hope for the leprosy hospital that became her first home

Marika Timmins was one of 14 walkers to complete the six-mile Walk of Hope around the Hambleton Peninsula at Rutland Water on Saturday 30 April. Together the team raised more than £1,200 towards building a new Research Centre at The Leprosy Mission’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal.

The Research Centre will replace a crumbling lab next to the leprosy hospital situated high on a Nepalese mountainside. There is a great urgency as the current lab will not pass its upcoming Nepali government inspection. This means that discoveries in the pipeline, that pave the way to ending leprosy once and for all, will not come to fruition. The Leprosy Mission’s Greater Heights campaign is raising money to build a new Research Centre, a place for medical breakthroughs.

The walkers set out from Upper Hambleton and finished with a picnic in the sunshine.

Marika, who spent her first month with her adoptive parents at Anandaban Hospital, said: "I was so happy to take part in the walk for Anandaban Hospital. It’s a special place for me and my family. I hope I can go back again soon.

"I went back to the hospital when I was seven and I was sad to see children the same age as me struggling with leprosy. It seemed so unfair because leprosy can be cured so easily.

"Medical research is needed to make sure children and adults are treated for leprosy early. In the lab at Anandaban they are working on technology that will diagnose leprosy on a smartphone.

"This means more people can be diagnosed and treated for leprosy than ever before. They won't become disabled or be rejected by their families."

Louise Timmins, Marika's mum, is Head of Fundraising at The Leprosy Mission, a cause she is passionate about and a charity she has worked for 18 years.

Louise and her husband Paul, a Chief Inspector at Lincolnshire Police, waited 12 years to become parents before adopting Marika from Nepal. Louise described Anandaban as a place where waiting ends and breakthroughs are made.

Forest of Joy

"Anandaban means ‘forest of joy’ in Nepali," she said.

"This seems so fitting as one day, scientific breakthroughs made here will lead to the joyous day when there is no more leprosy.

"Saturday morning was a very happy time at Rutland Water. Our faithful supporters and fellow walkers shared this exciting hope of ending leprosy. It still amazes me that with the aid of science to speed up the process, we can make this a reality!

"I felt emotional walking alongside Marika as Anandaban will always be a place of joy for our family. It was where Paul and I became parents and spent our first month with our beautiful girl.

Louise and Paul made their first visit to Nepal in 2009 where they led a trek to raise funds for the amazing work at Anandaban Hospital.

Louise said: "The first few days of our trip were spent shadowing medical staff at Anandaban. We were so touched by their expert care and love for leprosy patients. As well as physical wounds, there were so many deep emotional wounds because of the prejudice that still surrounds leprosy. Anandaban was their place of hope.

"A year later, although we were unaware of it at the time, the baby that was to become ours was born. At just one day old, she had been left outside a hospital. She was then taken to a children’s home in the days after. We’ll never know the reason why her family couldn’t care for her. It could’ve been extreme poverty or even the death of a parent that caused her to be abandoned. But we know she must have been loved because she was taken to a place where she would be cared for.

"In December 2010 I was sitting at my desk at The Leprosy Mission in Peterborough when an email dropped in from the head of The Leprosy Mission in Nepal. This wonderful man, Shovakhar, and his wife Laxmi, had become like family to us as we waited for a child. Shovakhar was a huge advocate for us with the Nepali authorities, opening doors that we couldn’t open on our own.

"His email read ‘this is your daughter’ and attached was a photo of a nine-month-old little girl. You can imagine my joy! It was important that we knew no family members were able to look after her in Nepal, so we advertised on the radio and put notices in local papers. Sadly, no-one came forward. Shovakhar and his family remain special to us and as her Godfather, he stands in the gap for Nepali family.

"Several months later, we finally had permission to travel to collect our daughter. At 16 months she was tiny and malnourished. The doctors at Anandaban Hospital tended to her lovingly, making us feel part of this special family of staff and patients. Our first month together at Anandaban was a time of healing and hope.

"Paul and I feel so incredibly blessed to be Marika's parents. We never dreamed we'd have more children. But, without even seeking out a second adoption, our beautiful son Finn, now nine, came into our lives quite unexpectedly. While Finn's journey was only from the south of England, his birth parents are originally from Afghanistan and Lithuania.

"Through Marika, we have an unbreakable bond with Anandaban. The work to defeat leprosy, led from the side of a mountain in Nepal, is at the heart of our story as a family of four."