The Colony

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I visited the leper colony yesterday. There’s a mobile medical unit that visits each colony every 2 weeks to distribute medicine and treat each patient. I’ve learned a few things about the disease (but don’t think I’m the definitive source :)

Apparently, it’s fully treatable and curable with 6 months of medicine. If it’s caught early enough, there is no remaining damage. If loss of limbs or deformities have already occurred before treatment is started, then those deformities will remain after the patient is cured. They think the disease is spread through the air- by someone coughing- but it also appears that there’s a genetic component. Only 5% of people are susceptible to the disease (genetically), so most people are naturally immune. Also, someone with a strong immune system (due to access to clean water, etc.) will probably not be susceptible to the disease.

Yesterday, I helped the doctor and nurses distribute medicine and treat wounds. Leprosy starts with patches of skin that lose feeling and then slowly rot away. Open sores form and without treatment, the sores will grow and rot away the flesh, until limbs are deformed. If the disease reaches the bone, then the limb must be amputated. This non-profit organization formed about 4 years ago (I think), so some of these people already had severe deformities before getting treatment. Many of the colonists are from multi-generations of people with leprosy, since they’ve had no access to medicine. I saw people yesterday that had lost feet, fingers, hands, lower legs, and eyes. I didn’t take any photos, because I didn’t want them to feel on display.

In India, they are considered ‘untouchables’, part of the lowest cast. Once in the colony, your life is over. There is no way to break the cycle on their own. The children in the colony (some of whom never get the disease) are still social outcasts and have no future. Rising Star Outreach decided to form a school to educate these children. The project I’m working on is related to the school.

It was amazed at how happy they are. I met a lady who has lost an eye, has deformed hands and feet, yet a big smile on her face. I expected to see suffering, but I saw hope instead. I’ve heard it would’ve been a different experience had I come 4 years ago.

The children are always full of hope. They are just so resilient. The school is teaching in English, since that’s a mark of a good education here in India. If they can speak English, they will be able to break the cycle of poverty and be part of the new class- the educated class. With an education, they will even surpass those that hold them down.

The doctor that is helping these people is also part of the ‘untouchable’ class, but he was able to raise himself up by an education. He said that he had watched his grandfather die, due to being refused medical treatment because of his low class status.

I’m being very factual in this post (rather than giving a lot of my feelings and impressions), because I haven’t quite processed this whole experience yet. This has given me a lot to think about.


Anonymous said...

I believe that every American needs to travel outside of the country and see how the majority of the world lives. It is very eye opening and definitely makes you more grateful.

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