Christabel Clifford (Naas parish) describes the work to rehabilitate leprosy patients.

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Christabel Clifford (Naas parish), paints a wonderful picture of village life in India and of the work done by the Karagiri Staff to rehabilitate their patients and assist them in living normal lives!

Friday 21st April dawned bright and early and we set off in our new air-conditioned transport! We were in the lap of luxury, travelling on one of the school buses used to transport the students from the surrounding areas to the Karigiri Medical Training Institute – the sliding glass windows provided a natural air-conditioning and was a welcome relief from the intense heat outside!

The plan was to visit the surrounding rural villages to get some idea of the landscape and environment. We were meeting the local people who were involved in and benefiting from various enterprises and support that was made available to them from the Karigiri Hospital. We had been told that the village survey programme had just been re-started in March 2017 after an absence of some twenty years, so this was our chance to see what the villages were like and the possible difficulties that the local health workers would have in giving healthcare information to the villagers and at the same time, trying to find, record and help those who may have contracted leprosy.

Our first visit was to the home of a young man who unfortunately had been injured in a motorcycle accident when he was 15 years old, which had tragically left him a quadriplegic. Unsure what to expect, we arrived at a well maintained farmyard where we met a new born calf suckling its mum, less than a day old! We made our way up the newly constructed ramp into the house where we met the young man who was lying on an air-bed on the floor, beaming at us.  It is difficult in such circumstances to know what is the correct thing to do and in the absence of any shared language, we could only smile back, wave and acknowledge the young man’s greeting.  Mr Sathish Paul, the podiatrist explained how the hospital were doing all that they could to organise physiotherapy in addition to trying to get the young man registered as disabled, which would provide some income for the family and allow them to take care of him.  However, due to his age, now 16 years, it was something of an uphill struggle battling against Indian bureaucracy to get registered as disabled at such a young age!

Our next stop was in the heart of a village street to the home of a young man who had learning difficulties.  We walked up the street past the vivid, brightly coloured houses and Hindu shrines – a dulux colour chart would not do justice to the colour combinations on these houses!  Lime green, vivid purple and bright orange are the in-vogue colours for this year, in case you are thinking of re-painting the front of your house!  Each doorstep had the most intricate pattern drawings on their porch called Kolam, made each morning using white rice flour, the custom being to welcome all into their house.  

We were welcomed wholeheartedly along the way, by the villagers going about their daily duties. We stopped to take photos and to hold the most adorable black baby goats!  We were greeted at the house by the family of the man who had learning difficulties – although nervous at first, the man came to the doorway of his house, smiling and brandishing his most important paperwork – his new disabled permit, all wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe!  Sathish explained that they had helped his family with his application and that his registration as disabled would guarantee the man’s welfare and allow his family to take good care of him.

I learned a new word during my time in India – differently-abled rather than disabled!  We stopped at the home of a young girl who was in a wheelchair. We were greeted enthusiastically and shown inside the family compound which comprised four different buildings.  The girl’s sewing machine was proudly on display as Sathish explained that she was able to earn money by stitching partly completed clothes delivered to her each week.

We had the opportunity to see inside one of the houses and I was amazed to see how cool and sheltered it was, under the bamboo roof with air naturally filtering through the open brickwork.  My mother‘s phrase of  “A place for everything and everything in its place” sprung to mind as I saw the family toothpaste and toothbrushes neatly tucked into the reeds in the thatched roof and how tidy everything was! I equally wasn’t expecting to see a TV with working channels perched in the middle of the living space as we caught up with recent news events. 

We moved along to another home to see the most interesting and simplest of initiatives –   mushroom farming! This entailed the filling of a transparent, plastic bag with damp straw and mushroom spores.  The bag was tied and left to hang in the dark in a specially constructed mud-hut.  Within 21 days, cultivation would take place. The process was very simple and the outcome was a roaring success, with all of the mushrooms being sold out within minutes!  Sathish, despite working nearby in the Podiatry unit at Karigiri had yet to manage to purchase the delicious mushrooms as they were constantly sold out.  This was a very simple yet profitable initiative set up by Karigiri that allowed the family to be self-sufficient. 

As we were leaving the home, we got talking to another family who lived nearby – the daughter of whom could speak some English, as many of the local people were only conversant in Tamil.  The Grandmother, who looked in her eighties at least, beckoned to me and grabbed my arm, clearly motioning that I go inside her house!  I could only understand 1 word – weaving!  We had been told that weaving was a traditional craft in the area of Karigiri but I never expected to see what followed next. With the strength of an ox, I was directed into the front room of her house where there was a full size wooden weaving machine, complete with threads. Granny nimbly jumped in behind the weaving machine and proud as punch, gave us a full demonstration of how to weave. No wonder her arms had the strength of an Ox!  The cynic in me was expecting a full blown sales pitch but no, the granny had merely wanted to show us her skill and craft! Truly the meaning of the Tamil word Vanakkam – Welcome!

It was inspiring to see the initiatives set up and supported by Karigiri Hospital to the villages. We had a wonderful time visiting the villages and we were made to feel most welcome every step of the way.