Why we need more Anjus in this world

Peter Waddup with Anju(Photo: Leprosy Mission)

On Monday I am excited to accompany one of our hospital managers from India to the UK Parliament. There she will speak to an audience of MPs, Lords and charity leaders. Such an occasion 20 years ago was beyond Anju's wildest dreams. But with God working His way through His people on earth, literally anything is possible! I really couldn't be any more excited to hear Anju tell her story. Her audience holds the key to unlocking the potential in millions of others like her.

There are 1.3 billion people globally who have a significant disability. That's one in six of us. Yet disability disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, communities like Anju's in India. Poor living conditions and malnutrition create the perfect conditions for diseases like leprosy. In fact, leprosy is one of the leading causes of avoidable disability globally.

Leprosy need not even exist in the 21st century. Yet, frustratingly, we must face the reality that it does. We live in a fallen world where, this side of heaven, there is injustice. My colleagues around the globe are doing their utmost to find and cure people of the disease. Time is of the essence to do this before disability sets in. The scale of the challenge is colossal. And while the harvest is plentiful, the workers are relatively few. Yet thanks to the generosity of people here in the UK, my amazing colleagues are able to reach so many at the right time. For every person cured, it is the beginning of a life filled with hope and possibility.

There is so much we can do, however, to transform the lives of people already disabled by leprosy. These are people who, without help, can no longer live independent and dignified lives. Life-long disabilities mean they cannot work. With no welfare state, at best they are left completely reliant on their families. At worst, age-old prejudice sees them cast out of their homes and reduced to begging for survival. This is so completely unnecessary. The workforce is missing out on talent that can be unlocked for a small investment.

Anju's story is one of resilience, hope and possibility. And like so many who have walked in her shoes, she is someone who wants to pay forward the kindness she received.

Anju was diagnosed with leprosy when she was just 14. Nerve damage caused her fingers to stiffen and bend inwards towards her palms. Before long she had to rely on her mother and sister for the simplest of tasks, even combing her hair.

Thankfully, Anju's leprosy was treated before it could further destroy her health. Two years after her diagnosis she underwent reconstructive surgery on her hands. Anju's surgery was performed by Dr Premal Das at The Leprosy Mission's Naini Hospital. Dr Premal now heads up The Leprosy Mission's work across the whole of India. He remembers operating on Anju and is so proud of the shining star she has become.

Having regained her independence after surgery, Anju was determined to help others. She is now Hospital Administrator at The Leprosy Mission's Muzaffarpur Hospital in Bihar, India's poorest state. Her job is big and diverse. It sees her head up administration, maintenance and accounting.

Anju told me that the surgery changed her life, but not overnight. She was still depressed for a long time afterwards until she was able to use her hands again. It was her commitment to her physiotherapy exercises that saw her regain significant movement. Enough for her to have complete independence!

The surgery, (costing just £140), was the catalyst to the transformation in Anju's life. Her parents were approached by people about the possibility of her marrying into their families. But they soon rejected Anju once they found out she had been treated for leprosy. Although hurt, Anju's determination saw her focus on her work. Happily, soon after she started work, she met a man who she went on to marry. It is wonderful to hear she found a partner who loves her regardless of leprosy and they now have two children.

My prayer on International Day of Persons with Disabilities is that we build a world full of possibility for so many others like Anju. There will always be injustice and tragedy. But we should be working to make the lives of people who have already endured so much better in whatever way we can. That may be through the provision of surgery, mobility aids or prosthetic limbs. For a relatively small cost that cannot be met by people in the communities in which we work, so much is possible.

Anju would have never dreamed she would travel to the UK and speak at an event in the Houses of Parliament. The event is hosted by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and Bond, the international development group. Those attending have a direct say in how the UK aid budget is spent. They have a responsibility to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals which pledged to 'leave no one behind'. It is our prayer that Anju inspires her audience that they can make such a profound difference in so many lives.

If you would like to give the gift of independence on International Day of Persons with Disabilities please visit leprosymission.org.uk