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Life-changing trip to Nepal – by Tracey Adamson

Submitted by on May 2, 2012 – 3:29 pm

“I have been interested in developing countries since I started my physiotherapy degree. I don’t want to wait until I have graduated and worked for a few years before I can start making a difference. I want to help in whatever way I can now.” Miriam Whitton, fourth year Physiotherapy student at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

Leprosy Mission New Zealand’s six Youth Advocates recently returned from a mission trip to Nepal where they witnessed the work of the Leprosy Mission. During their mission trip the Advocates stayed on site at Anandaban Leprosy Mission Hospital in Kathmandu. They also got to see first-hand how the hospital works and learn about the holistic approach it takes to the medical and social implications of leprosy.

“The significant consideration of psychology as a health issue impressed me including having a dedicated counsellor and regular counselling sessions for in and out-patients” says Jo Burnett, a third year Nursing student at University of Auckland.

Anandaban means ‘forest of joy’ when translated from Nepalese and this is what the Advocates experienced while staying on site of the Leprosy Mission Hospital.

During their nine day trip the Youth Advocates had the opportunity to watch a life-changing reconstructive hand surgery. The Advocates were amazed at the quality of care that was provided to every patient, especially since the hospital operates on low budgets and aging equipment compared to developed countries.

Six Youth Advocate’s in front of the main entrance to Anandaban Leprosy Mission Hospital. Back: Stefan van Woerden, Sam Illing, Jo Burnett Front: Carinnya Feaunati, Nathanael Lucas, Miriam Whitton

“I was impressed by their thinking outside the box and making the most of what they have. Also using what resources and skills they have efficiently and effectively, without compromising the quality of treatment” says Nathanael Lucas, a third year Medical Student at University of Auckland.

The Youth Advocates also travelled to meet urban and rural self-help groups hearing about the essential social and economic support in the community. While on a trek in the Kathmandu Valley, the Youth Advocates reflected on the impact of the community focus following hospital treatment and the challenges of travel anywhere in Nepal. They realised the necessity for reliable transport and are now on a mission to raise funds towards a new 4-wheel drive vehicle for Anandaban Hospital. You can donate towards the 4WD vehicle here.

“The community at Anandaban Hospital and all the services they provide especially the self-help groups have such a positive impact for leprosy-affected families and their communities. People affected by leprosy know they are not alone and have a great support system” says Stefan van Woerden, a second year Engineering student at Massey University, Auckland.

From left, Stefan, Carinnya, Sam, Nathanael, Miriam and Jo aim to raise $15,000 through a Bowl-a-thon to help fund this 4WD for the Anandaban Leprosy Mission Hospital in Kathmandu.

“One of the main differences this scholarship offers over other youth orientated scholarships is the chance to witness the work Leprosy Mission New Zealand makes possible in Kathmandu. I was impressed by the staff’s ingenuity, doing the best they can with little resources. I aIso got to scrub up and watch a life-changing hand reconstructive surgery. I was personally challenged and this was a once in a lifetime experience” says Carinnya Feaunati, a third year Architecture student at Victoria University, Wellington.

“The one thing I saw a great need for while travelling around Kathmandu is the need for acceptance for people affected by leprosy and the break-down of social stigma” says Sam Illing, a third year Medical student at University of Auckland. Breaking down stigma associated with leprosy really starts here in New Zealand; it is not just a medical disease but also a social disease with adverse consequences. Leprosy is probably the most feared diseases that still exists. Leprosy is treatable and curable, and the Youth Advocate Scholarship is one of the ways the Leprosy Mission New Zealand is working with youth to raise awareness of this curable but often forgotten disease.

The rural outskirts of Kathmandu Valley are very mountainous which can leave small communities isolated from other parts of the Valley, so the 4WD vehicle will help provide vital medical treatment to the isolated families.

Now the six Youth Advocates are back from the life changing trip, they are planning a Bowl-a-thon on the 21st July at the Mt Eden Bowling Club in Auckland to help raise funds to go towards the 4WD for Anandaban Hospital. If you are outside of Auckland you can kick start their fundraising efforts by checking out their Fundraise Online page here.

Applications are now open for the Leprosy Mission New Zealand’s 2013 Youth Advocate Scholarships.  If you are interested please visit www.leprosymission.org.nz or contact the Leprosy Mission’s Donor Development Manager, Gillian Whitley, on 09 631 1806, 0800 862 873 or email her at gillian.whitley@leprosymission.org.nz

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