We were already on our way and making various stops around the city of Kathmandu to collect passengers before I asked the purpose of our trip today. I was in a Leprosy Mission jeep, a new one with airbags that would be good for our difficult roads today, said Shovakar the Leprosy Mission Director as he stroked the clean ceiling fabric. By the end of the day we would be fastening the front cow-guard with a rag to keep it on, and checking the source of a water leak. I’m surprised vehicles last as long as they do considering the roads travelled.
In the car was the director, the chairman of the board, an official photographer / film maker, the projects coordinator Saroj who had led our first field trip, a driver, and myself. The purpose of the trip was to officially open a newly built home for a former leprosy patient. After his treatment he returned to his village to make a life with his wife and two sons. However, when the earthquake struck, his wife was killed in their home which was flattened and life turned bleak.
The Leprosy Mission (TLM) has widened its remit since the earthquake. The Kathmandu hospital now takes in many other patients and TLM is developing other community-based projects. They have brought me along to see if there is a project that also appeals to us (Westdene community and church) but they do continue to prioritise the most at risk, marginalised, and/or disabled people. They have committed to building 120 houses at a cost of about 400,000rps (£2700) each, beginning with a training programme for builders who would then return to each others communities to build their own homes first then other homes according to needs. This would be the third completed home.
After a quick rice lunch at the Chandra Guest House in Melamchi, and a toilet stop for the weak-stomached member of the entourage, we started to head up the hill but were forced to abandon the vehicle half way and hike the rest, two of us with newly purchased caps in anticipation of this on what was turning out to be a scorcher. Towards the top of Sindhukot the neighbourhood had already gathered. We inspected the house, prayed for God’s blessing on the family and community, cut the ribbon and drank tea. Someone would come back to make final touches such as paint doors, and make safe exposed nails.
A neighbour mentioned his wife who had lost a leg due to serious burns inflicted during a thunderstorm whilst cooking hot oils so on the way down we visited and TLM will be able to help her too as they have designed many prosthetics for their own patients. A new work has started in this village. There are no Christians here but the community knows that TLM believe in a God who transforms communities through grace and love. This is a community of many poor people who rely on what they can grow on their terraces, what they can exchange with their neighbours and what they can sell in the town below. Could they become more prosperous by working together as a cooperative, by specialising and sharing resources? And who could organise them? As for our cured leper, his holding is too small to prosper, his sons have scholarships to local schools and there is no more help for the farm. TLM plan to help with perhaps chickens to enable him to build a business and enable him to be self-sufficient.
It was our journey home that seemed to hurt the jeep. A more scenic, mountainside rather than valley, perhaps more direct route, but sections were incomplete or under repair and the jeep met her match in a riverbed: but that’s all in a day’s travel in Nepal.