Posted by Tamrah Schaller ONeil

Tamrah Schaller O’Neil can be contacted directly regarding Pathways to Children.

‘healthy’ kids who live and attend school at The Gandhiji Prem Nivas Leprosy Centre because they have a parent who has or had leprosy

Hansen’s Disease causes nerves in the body’s outer reaches to lose sensation. Sores develop, and unless the disease is treated, permanent damage to nerves, eyes, skin and limbs results. Affected people can easily burn themselves because they don’t feel pain. Minor cuts go unnoticed and become infected. Most know this disease by a different name tied to a legacy of social banishment dating from pre-biblical times: leprosy.

Leprosy is only contagious to a small fraction of the population, as low as 5 percent, who may not have a natural immunity to the disease. According to the World Health Organization, “leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.” Medication eliminates the risk of transmission entirely.

Entrance to the Gandhiji Prem Nivas Leprosy CentreIt’s not every day you have the chance to visit a leprosy colony. The Gandhiji Prem Nivas Leprosy Centre at Titagarh was started by Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity in 1958. Located outside Kolkata, the center is now run by the Jesuit brothers. Brother John gives us a tour.

The first thing I notice is a rhythmic clacking sound. It is the beautiful sound of more than fifty looms weaving cloth for the Missionaries of Charity. We immediately recognize the white and blue trim cloth that is sewn into habits and sarees for the nuns, and the checked pattern used for sheets and diapers. All the people working here are former patients. Other former patients make special sandals from car tire pieces. These pieces create a soft cushion for patients whose feet were sensitized by nerve damage, ulcers and deformities.

This center is a village within itself. Former patients help care for over 200 patients who are currently in treatment for the chronic disease. Generous doctors perform free surgery to repair deformed limbs. A carpentry section builds all the furniture and crutches, and is being trained by the National Institute for Orthopedically Handicapped to create artificial limbs. Healthy children whose parents have the disease live here with their families and attend school at the center. There is also a beautiful garden.

The emotional pain of having leprosy often outweighs the physical pain. Brother John told us about a young man who lives at the center and is now cured. He feels he cannot return home because the stigma of his disease will harm the chances of his sisters’ entering into good marriages.

Near the end of our visit, we walk through a room of very sick women who are being treated. Many are missing fingers and toes, and their noses have collapsed. Feeling helpless, I express a wish to somehow give them something—comfort, health, love. They put their hands together and offer us Namaste greetings as we offer it back. The light within me recognizes the light within you. I hold back tears and offer the only thing I have—a genuine smile and a silent blessing for their restored health.

WHO-World Health Organization is a division of United Nations that offers free medication.

1 comment:

  1. Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway of 1979 for opening missions all over the world, teaching people about helping the poorest of the poor, and traveling around the world herself to help these people. "Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa.

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