Thursday, February 28, 2013

A.S. Nagar Leprosy Colony

Today was soulful.

We went with the mobile medical team to the AS Nagar colony but on the way we made a few stops.

First stop...provide a ride to the hospital for a woman in the village.

Second stop...a preschool funded by Rising Star. Most of these children will enter school at Rising Star once they reach age 5. It was fun to sit and play with the children and we even met the little brother of a student we know here. They were joyful, scared, and entertained by us all at the same time. Many of them were too young to talk and those who could did not speak English. But all we had to do was hand out paper and markers and language was a non-issue.

While we were there playing with the children the doctor gave them each a check-up and the necessary medications. Then we said goodbye and headed to the colony.

This particular colony is very small - we only saw a few patients but oh, did they capture my heart. First I met Mr. D (as I call him). We set up the medical clinic right on his front porch.

 He is an extremely tender and handsome man who has a rare condition that makes healing from his sores nearly impossible. He smiled as we talked about his pain. I learned that he is a tailor and has a shop at his home (we used the shop as part of our clinic setup). He has a well in his backyard for water, a cow,  and a kitchen out back that looks to be from primitive times. He has a bracelet kind of like mine. Even though things seem so unfair for him, being with Mr. D made me feel hopeful and peaceful.

I call this patient Miss H because she was so happy. Her smile couldn't be contained. I'm not sure if she liked having me take her pictures but she nodded and laughed and then always wanted to see how they turned out! We did our best to care for her wounds, smiled and tried to talk though neither of us spoke the same language, and then we bid her farewell. She began her walk down a long, dusty road toward home and a pack of wild dogs followed her. She flung her little pink purse at them, holding on with hardly a finger, and just kept moving. Being with Miss H made me happy today.

Now Miss S could either be Miss Sourpuss or Miss Sad. I tried to put myself in her shoes, but really, how can I even think I could try? She reminds me of how I feel when things don't go my way. Behind her scowl she had beautiful eyes and I think she even had a kind heart. I liked Miss S.

I hated to clean up and drive away. Leaving Mr. D's house was different than leaving an empty building behind. Rising Star visits these colonies every two weeks so I know my new friends are in good hands, I just didn't want it to be the one and only time I was able to be with them. I hope they felt special today.

Rising Star not only offers medical care for leprosy afflicted patients, it provides micro-loans for those in the colonies who can meet certain criteria such as being alcohol free and presenting a viable business plan. This helps them become more self sufficient and it gives them a tremendous sense of purpose. Today we were able to visit 2 such projects Rising Star supports  - "Pearls with a Purpose" and an art institute. You can read more in depth about these and other businesses at

Pearls with a purpose was so fun to see. I've read about it online and it was fun to actually sit in the shop where the jewelry was being made. I had everyone from our medical van helping me pick out the jewelry they thought I should buy...and they did a good job. The ladies were happy to sell so many jewels and I was happy to have them!

Our last stop was the art institute. Walking in there almost felt like walking on hallowed ground, and I'm not really sure why. It is a humble little building with the back wall open to a stable full of cows. We were greeted by several people, all of which had moderate to extremely severe damage to their hands as a result of the disease. 

A chair was pulled up for me as if I were royalty and then stack upon stack of art was handed to me to admire and choose. It was hard to look through all the art with all these hopeful eyes fixed on me. I didn't know anyone's name so I couldn't tell which artist had painted what and I desperately wanted to spare their feelings of rejection if I didn't pick theirs. 

In the end I settled on 3 paintings. Two were from the same artist and they made me feel happy. I asked if I could see the artist who painted such spirited pictures - I knew I would love him! Sadly, I was told that he was not there. He is in the hospital having his leg amputated. 

The other artist was there and he was happy to pose with his painting! His fingers are nearly all worn away but he is determined to paint masterpieces with what little he has left.

Meet some of the other talented and inspirational artists.

And I'll end with a little story of the first man I met in the front of the art school. A volunteer here told me that she did a feature story on him last month (I need to get the whole story written down from her), but what I do know is he has had leprosy for 70 years. He was diagnosed at age 5, the same year he lost both his parents and he was too young to remember how. His life has been a series of tragic loss, and although he explains that he is just waiting to die, he continues to live as nobly as he can.