India Team - Rhonda Willoughby (Naas parish), writes about a place of refuge

Rhonda Willoughby (Naas parish), writes about a village at the Karagiri hospital where leprosy-affected people who have no family that are in a position, or are willing, to care for them may find refuge

Shantigramam translates as village of peace and it occupies a sheltered 4.5 acres of the Karigiri hospital site. It was set up in 1980 by Dr Ernest Fritschi and his wife Manorama to support those with leprosy who have no one to care for them and are isolated from their families and communities with no means to support themselves. There are 20 houses set up in the style of a village with a community hall and a garden that is tended by the residents providing food for consumption and sale in the hospital.  There is a cook who comes to look after the residents and hospital staff take it in turns to come each weekend with their friends and family to bring food and share a meal with all who live in this special place. The village was aptly named as there is a tremendous sense of peace there.

My most moving experience of the trip occurred here when we met a lady resident who had been rescued from the streets where she was begging. She was blind and her hands and feet were badly deformed as a result of her leprosy. She sat on the step outside her home and sang for us. The song she sang in her native Tamil was "God is good" and she told us that she prayed to God morning and evening.  This incredible woman of faith was an inspiration to me.  She is a reminder to all of us to see the goodness of God in all circumstances. We can so often choose to be blind to the goodness and blessings of God and with selfish hearts confuse needs with material wants.

Shantigramam is a place built on a solid foundation of love and compassion. The goodness of God is evident in all the amazing people who serve this community. I can confirm that Jesus is still walking beside those who are suffering with leprosy. I saw the light of Jesus in all the people I met. It was a moving and emotional experience but as I left this special place I took the precious memories with me in my heart. It truly is a place where hope and dignity meet.