On the evening of Boxing Day 2016 my friend Alison Clark-Morris and I flew out to Delhi to spend two weeks at the Village of Hope; a village which has been built for Leprosy sufferers and their families. Ali is a podiatrist (or, as she became known in India, “the foot doctor”) who works at a chiropractic clinic in Pangbourne and Theale Wellbeing Centre, Berkshire. The Village is run by the charity Hope Worldwide.
What has been achieved over 25 years was inspirational. People with leprosy not only suffer from the illness but because of the associated stigma, the whole family lose their jobs, cannot marry and are cast out of the community, usually ending up as beggars. The Village provides not just a home but also microcredit loans to set up small businesses and training in computing, nursing and sewing. The children and grandchildren of the original 800 residents are now getting jobs and building lives outside the Village. We saw a busy, happy, vibrant place, with weddings, religious festivals and parties seemingly every day. (We were included in them all!).
Leprosy is now almost eliminated from India, only 127,326 new cases being diagnosed each year. Early detection is essential to avert disability. But for the previous generation, the infection left life-long neuropathy (nerve damage) in feet and hands leading to pain, disfigurement and loss of sensation. Loss of sensation leads to serious foot ulcers, similar to those sometimes seen on people with diabetes in the UK. It is these ulcers that, if not managed carefully, result in amputations and disability.
The bandaging clinic that treats the ulcers was where we worked alongside Raju. Raju contracted leprosy at 13 and ran away from home to protect his family and seek treatment. He was one of the lucky ones with no permanent damage. The Village trained him in wound care and while he cannot read or write he is a highly skilled medical technician, treating up to 100 patients a day. Ali’s very specialist skills made a real impact in just a fortnight, treating the ulcers and providing orthotic padding to relieve the pressure that causes the ulcers. She helped Raju further improve his skills and left a simple programme of education in self help for the residents to prevent new ulcers.
Our final job was to work with the charity to draw up an investment plan for the clinic to provide more up to date equipment (lights, steriliser, water supply etc.); a female assistant to work alongside Raju to deal with the many female leprosy sufferers who feel too ashamed to be treated by a man and finally the means for more professional podiatrists from the UK or elsewhere to visit as volunteers. Thankfully the first two of these three goals have already been achieved and there are plans for other podiatrists to go out next January. The picture below is of Raju and his new assistant.
Thank you to all those who have supported this worthwhile programme. If you would like to contribute to the continuing work of the Village of Hope please donate today.