Rummaging through some old pictures I found this picture from my trip to India back in 2009. It is from the school of an NGO in Tamil Nadu for children who have been inflicted with leprosy (that is they have either had the disease itself or someone in their families have had it which, for society, means the same). Of course smiling children will always make you happy, but this picture is especially dear to me.
We visited this school of hope after visiting a leprosy colony which was the stark opposite of this picture. The first time we went to the colony, I nearly blacked out from the sights and smells, from having to wade in water and sewage up to my knees to get there, from the damp feeling of the cold corridors of what looked like a haunted school house, and from the eyes of the men and women there. I literally couldn’t get out of there fast enough, I remember half-running through a long corridor leading to the image of our car, with goat droppings on the floor and the blurred sounds of people around us. Can you imagine what that makes you feel, not being physically capable of merely seeing the life of others?
Thankfully, we were able to go back the day, better prepared and better equipped to see the people in front of us, in spite of the conditions they lived in. And voilà a meeting for life. The women there, their resolve and most importantly their affection. They sure did like us there! We laughed, took pictures, agreed that pretty girls like us should get married, laughed some more, and promised to visit again. I had no idea what they were saying to me in Tamul but does that matter?
All that being well, I will never forget the conditions – the psychological conditions – the women lived in. Shunned by a society that cursed them and condemned to a life of isolation and filth, it is beyond inhumane. Social exclusion must be the worst punishment imaginable. And the most unjust, and the most unforgivable. There you have another manifestation of the shit that is men of religion that, no matter faith or colour, teach that the fate of the world rests upon maintaining a structure that treats the weak so terribly. So much suffering for nothing. Did you know that leprosy is not what eats up your limbs and face, and then your organs one by one, but it is simply the fact that leprosy kills your nervous system so that you do not feel cuts and it is purely the infections that eat up your flesh? So, just by cleaning your wounds you save your limbs and you save your life, but to clean wounds with clean water you can not live in abject poverty. Poverty is the ugliest thing on earth, and structures no matter ideology, philosophy or religion that allow for abject poverty are the ugliest in the world. And I will never budge from that opinion.
And what’s more: leprosy can be cured, easily, and for free in India, in 6 months. That’s all. But people, and even in the higher classes and castes, hide their symptoms because of the most terrible consequence of all: that they and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring will all become social pariah. Some of the women we talked to had just sneaked out of their homes leaving their family before anyone could discover the curse, others got kicked out by their own children. One man’s two sons came once a month, sometimes beat him up, and took his meagre allowance from the state. All for having caught the very curable leprosy bacteria. All for nothing.
But, and this is the important but, then you have pictures like this and stories like these. This school far away was truly an oasis of hope and happiness. They call the children their Rising Stars. An American woman had found out that her deceased daughter had supported a similar cause, and in a wish to honour her memory had started this school, and now hundreds of children who otherwise could have ended up like the women we met the day before got an excellent education, love and affection, and lives without the curse of leprosy. We were shown some of the before and after pictures, one of the children on this picture had arrived at the school mute not being able to relate to the other children, and now she was running around screaming on a sugar high “Auntie! Auntie! Take a picture of me! Take a picture of meeeeee!”.
And then comes the best part, this school is so successful in its work that even the local villagers now want to send their children there – to a school full of what they otherwise would have seen as cursed dirty lepers. So the school accepts some of them to bridge the gap, and lo and behold, social change commences. Now, isn’t that the most wonderful story you have ever heard?
How can that not make you believe in good? How can that not make you believe in that in humanity lies the will to love, to share and to take care of each other? You see, kindness breeds kindness. You become a better person by being a kind person. This is the kind of stuff I understand, not negotiations, power, chauvinism, fascism… those things just confuse me. Kindness, creativity, solidarity, courage, and well, just simply, love.
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” You can only guess who said that…
For reading more about Rising Star Outreach go to their website: http://www.risingstaroutreach.org/, visit their facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/RisingStarOutreach (they sure are worth a like), and think of what you yourself can do to love those who need to be loved the most.
For example, it is possible to sponsor a child and help pay for their education and stay at the school. If interested, go their website and click on “Sponsor a child” and you will find a picture and a few words about each of the children that need sponsoring. The Rising Star Outreach needs all the help they can get.