BBC Songs of Praise presenter Pam Rhodes to host a free talk at Cathedral Isle of Man

Presenter Pam Rhodes, the face of the BBC’s Songs of Praise for more than 30 years, will host a free talk in Cathedral Isle of Man from 6.30pm to 8pm on Saturday 14 September.

Pam Rhodes meets leprosy patient Ram at Anandaban Hospital in Nepal.

Pam will speak about her recent visit to Nepal, a country recovering from the devastation of the 2015 earthquake which killed 9,000 people, leaving an already poverty-stricken nation still struggling to rebuild lives.

Having recently taken up the position of Vice-President of The Leprosy Mission, Pam visited the charity’s Anandaban Hospital in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal to witness first-hand the terrible physical and emotional struggles faced by leprosy patients.

Pam’s story in international aid began with her sending film crews to the scenes of humanitarian disasters across the globe more than 40 years ago for the ITV documentary series THIS WEEK.

She said: “I remember working back in the 70’s as part of the THIS WEEK documentary team which brought some of the first harrowing pictures of the desperate famine in Ethiopia and the devastating floods in Bangladesh to our television screens across Britain. Jonathan Dimbleby’s first-hand experience shared over those haunting pictures galvanised the whole country into action.

“When the world is opened up to you there is no avoiding these situations and you can’t hide behind ignorance and do nothing. We all have our part to play to stop innocent, helpless people from suffering the ill effects of unjust wars, disease and natural disaster.

“I’m a great believer that everyone can do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the one giving the injection or building the school – your contribution could simply be dropping 10p in a collecting box, but we do all have a role to play.”

From her many filming assignments for BBC Television’s ‘Songs of Praise’, as well as charities including the Salvation Army and Christian Aid, Pam’s travels have taken her to situations and communities in countries including South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe where life is challenged daily by hunger, disease, prejudice or civil war.  

Her practical approach to life coupled with a strong faith sees Pam openly seek out opportunities to uncover pain and injustice as opposed to hide from it.

“As an interviewer, I’ve had the privilege of hearing shocking, moving and often heart-warming stories of how difficult ordinary life can be in extraordinary circumstances.  I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, the power of prayer and the depth of faith that brings hope in the most inhumanly difficult situations.  What I’ve seen would touch the hardest heart – and once you’ve seen it, you can’t ignore your responsibility to do something about it – especially when you realise that the worst day you can imagine in your own life is still a hundred times better than the best day for so many millions of others around the world.”

After taking up a new role as Vice-President of The Leprosy Mission, Pam asked to visit the charity’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal which was thrust into the spotlight after the devastating earthquakes that struck Nepal in 2015. The hospital’s highly-skilled medical team responded so effectively that patient numbers literally doubled to 40,000 a year following the earthquakes.

Despite being curable, leprosy is still so very misunderstood and stigmatised in Nepal. Ancient beliefs see people hide the early symptoms of leprosy for fear of being thrown out of their families and communities. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the leprosy hospital once hidden away on the hillside and avoided by local communities is now inundated as its services suddenly became widely known and respected.

Pam said: “Many of the staff lost their homes but there were people dying and seriously injured all around them so they simply carried on and literally didn’t take a day off for six months.

“But an extraordinary thing happened in the wake of the earthquakes with leprosy patients at Anandaban Hospital giving up their beds for trauma patients and doing everything they could to help them.

“I had to remind myself that many of these leprosy patients were rejected by these communities before the earthquake but were now opening up their hearts to them.

“Undoubtedly the earthquake raised Anandaban Hospital as a beacon of light for thousands of miles.
“It’s all hands on deck with operations taking place in corridors and people making the best of the resources they have and creating miracles time and time again.”

Most people consider leprosy to be a disease of Biblical times and have no idea that around 250,000 new cases are diagnosed every year leaving three million people living with life-changing disabilities due to leprosy worldwide. This is something The Leprosy Mission is determined to change and Anandaban Hospital in Nepal is critical in its vision to see the disease finally confined to the history books.

Pam said her lasting memory of Nepal was meeting a young man called Ram who was a stonemason by trade. He was really struggling as he could no longer works as leprosy-caused nerve damage had caused his fingers to curl.

“He was finding it incredibly hard to accept he had the disease,” explained Pam.

“Hands are always on show in Nepal because of the traditional namaste greeting so it is tricky to disguise leprosy-affected fingers.

“Ram told me that he’d only been married for six months. It was a real love match and not an arranged marriage. He said his wife did not know he had leprosy but I do think she surely must’ve known. But because of the stigma surrounding leprosy, him having the disease was just too big a deal for them to talk about.

“To give it a name would make it real and neither of them could face the consequences.

“I’ll never forget watching Ram being wheeled in to have reconstructive surgery to straighten his curled fingers. And I will always treasure the memory of the huge smile on his face the morning after his surgery, when he realized he could use his fingers again. That first twitch of movement epitomized new hope for his future, a life no longer defined by leprosy, but full of the promise of his own ability and worth.”

From Anandaban Hospital, local community leaders and government health workers are trained to spot leprosy before it can leave someone like Ram disabled, so that more and more people can be found quickly, met with the help they need, and given medicine that completely cures them, as well as any specialist surgery or care.

Pam said “There is a cure and the medical knowledge to stop leprosy in its tracks. Eventually it will stop completely but, in the meantime, our fight is with stigma and ignorance. People are rejected by their communities because of leprosy many believing it’s a punishment from God.

“We have to work until we are not needed anymore and what a wonderful thing that would be.”

The event at Cathedral Isle of Man at 6.30pm on Saturday 14 September is hosted by the Revd Nigel Godfrey, Dean of Cathedral Isle of Man.

It is free of charge, all are welcome and there is no need to book. Light refreshments will be served afterwards. 
The Leprosy Mission Isle of Man is newly registered as an Isle of Man charity.

 

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