SK hobbled into the clinic one morning, head hung in shame and trying to hide her hands. Both hands were clawed, deformed and smelt like ulcers were present.
Gently undoing the bandages, I saw large ulcers on the palms and backs of both her hands. She had lost the feeling in her hands years before, leaving them vulnerable to injury. Her feet too had lost feeling and developed ulcers.
Clearly she had had leprosy for many years and I was saddened, but not too surprised to hear she had never received treatment. SK lived only five minutes from a government health post that could have provided her with free anti-leprosy medicine but her husband had refused to let her go for treatment and, when her disease became too obvious to hide, kicked her out of the house and told her to never return.
This scenario is all too common in rural Nepal where women are often valued less than their animals and leprosy is still regarded as a curse from the spirits.
SK walked the three-day journey to her daughter’s house in Dang, where she was brought to our clinic. After learning that she really did have leprosy, SK wept for days. Sadly it was too late to restore movement or feeling to her hands, but we did what we could.
Two months later, after much care and counselling, SK left our wards to live with her daughter, feeling like a new woman. Her ulcers were healed, malnutrition and anaemia corrected, worms/amoeba/urinary tract infection cured, she possessed new shoes and she knew how to care for her damaged hands and feet to prevent further injury.
She had also heard the story of Jesus who reached out, touched and healed leprosy patients when he walked the Earth, loves them just as much today and still touches them through his servants.
There are many patients like SK who come to our clinic. I work in south-western Nepal, one of the poorest, most conflicted regions of Nepal where communication, facilities and infrastructure are poor. Living here, as the only Westerner, is not always easy but in the midst of difficulties and hardships I have learnt to lean on him and discovered that he truly is enough.
The needs here are great. Many people suffer and die from diseases that are preventable or curable at low cost.
The majority of the women are illiterate. In some villages, girls marry from the age of 12 and have babies from age 14 in unhygienic conditions, often with no one to assist them.
Hygiene is extremely poor and drinking water is unsafe – the pond used by the village for drinking water is also used as a toilet, for washing, for rubbish and by animals.
Spiritual needs are great, with many who have never heard the name of Jesus living in bondage and fear of spirits. The church is young and is in great need of discipleship and leadership training.
How to even begin in the midst of such overwhelming need?
The INF project I work in focuses on improving the health and quality of life of those with leprosy, TB, general disability and HIV/AIDS, on empowering poor and marginalised communities, improving mother and child health and reaching out to those whom Jesus brings across our path – to touch them with His love, one at a time.
By treating them with dignity and compassion we reflect the compassion, character and Kingdom values of Jesus in a society that knows very little of these.
In the future, I plan to work more closely with churches and church- based organisations to strengthen the church and build its capacity to reach out to their communities with both verbal proclamation and the practical demonstration of God’s love.
Dr Julie, from Otumoetai Baptist, has been serving in health development work in rural Nepal with Serving in Mission since 2004. She is seconded to International Nepal Fellowship. SIM is a strategic partner of MISSION WORLD.