Adventurous retired nurse returns from placement in Myanmar

A retired surgical and psychiatric nurse has returned home to Christchurch having spent five weeks working with some of the world’s poorest and most stigmatised people at a leprosy hospital in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Valerie Young teaching a class of nursing students in Myanmar

Valerie Young, 68, says she never envisaged a quiet retirement. Over recent years she has volunteered at a centre for blind people in Penang, Malaysia and at a mother and baby home in Cape Town as well as training healthcare assistants in Antigua. Closer to home, she was recently awarded her Long Service Medal by St John Ambulance for 52 years of service.

Mum-of-two Mrs Young said she not only wanted to offer her nursing skills at the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital in Myanmar’s Mon state but wished to try and reduce some of the age-old prejudice surrounding leprosy during her placement.

Although entirely curable there are still around 3,000 new cases of leprosy diagnosed and treated each year in Myanmar. If left untreated leprosy causes nerve damage which can result in terrible disabilities including blindness. There is a government hospital in Mandalay to the north of the country with Mawlamyine Hospital, supported by The Leprosy Mission, serving Southern Myanmar.

Mrs Young said: “The people are very poor and this is their only source of help, which is why a leprosy village has grown up around Mawlamyine Hospital. People have nowhere else to go and are often outcast by their families because of leprosy.

“I wanted to help fight stigma and everywhere I visited on my travels in Myanmar I would speak about leprosy so as to let people know that patients can be completely cured, hopefully before they develop disabilities.

“The staff at Mawlamyine Hospital were kind and dedicated. While I was there a leprosy patient phoned to say he had become very sick but did not have any money to return to hospital. He was alone and the hospital sent transport to fetch him.

“I was able to give 15 training sessions to nurses and ward staff during my time there which I loved.”

Although Mrs Young said she struggled with the heat, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees, and does not enjoy Asian food, the intrepid retired nurse says she would like to volunteer overseas again.
Mrs Young, who has a real heart for the marginalised, demonstrated by her work with mental health patients during her nursing career and setting up clubs for the elderly and for those struggling with mental health problems, said: “I feel like I’m really living and come to life when I’m working. It’s a two-way thing and if it helps someone then we both benefit.”

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