LAYLA'S VISIT TO ST LUKES LEPROSARIUM
On 4th August, my friend Sophie and I flew to the Indian city of Chennai, feeling nervous about what was to come, and not really knowing what to expect. We knew we would be going to visit St Luke’s Leprosarium and The SCHT Boys’ Home, but that was pretty much it. Kathy Miller (the founder of the Neem Tree Trust) video-called us and was extremely helpful, explaining many hacks which we would be expected to know, such as the fact that food (even curry) is eaten without cutlery and only with the right hand!
We arrived and took the overnight train to the Leprosarium, which was close to a town called Tirunelveli in the very South of the Tamil Nadu state. The biggest shock was the driving, with all sorts of vehicles and horns, and nobody seeming to be driving in lanes! In Tirunelveli, we were met by the Leprosarium’s dentist and the driver, Ravi. They took us out for a traditional Indian breakfast called Idle and Samba, more curry! (But still delicious.)
We arrived at the Leprosarium and met all the nurses and the cook, who all couldn’t have been more welcoming or informative. Throughout the placement we got to know some of the nurses quite well and their reasons for dedicating their lives to this job were really inspirational. They took us on the ward rounds and were very informative (when we weren't feeling faint!). Their kindness was unparalleled.
Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, which attacks the nerve endings mainly in the body’s extremities, causing loss of sensation. This often leads to gangrene, amputation and the fingers and toes falling off. In India, leprosy is often seen to make somebody ‘unclean’, as this is what’s stated in the bible, and India is a very religious country. This often leads to patients with leprosy being rejected by their families. Additionally, treatment is not always sought. This is sometimes because people are uneducated around the subject and don’t know that their signs / symptoms are of leprosy, or in the case of women, they feel they cannot leave their children to seek treatment. If detected early, leprosy is curable.
Some of the stories of the patients were heart-breaking, yet it was obvious how much the Leprosarium had improved their lives. One of the nurses, Freeda, taught herself to weave baskets on YouTube, and taught the patients this skill as a way of generating income in future. Sometimes patients who leave are given goats as another way of earning money.
We were also taken to the main hospital nearby where we got to scrub in to see some surgery, such as a hip replacement and various eye surgeries, which was amazing.
We were then taken to stay at the SCHT boys’ home for a few days. This is a home for boys who are differently abled, orphaned, or whose families can’t afford to support them, and is almost single-handedly funded by The Neem Tree Trust itself, which is just incredible.
The boys were so keen to show us all of their games such as kabaddi (the national game of India – very aggressive!) and some traditional Tamil dancing. We felt very lucky to visit a place filled with so much love and happiness.
Finally, we visited Mumbai for a few nights before coming home. We are very grateful to Oakley for the £200 donation (which we had with us in Indian rupees) made to this amazing cause. We decided to give half of the money to the Leprosarium, which will go toward healthcare, and the other half toward the running of the Boys’ Home.