Page 9, 5th May 1972

5th May 1972
Page 9
Page 9, 5th May 1972 — I chanced to look down at

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I chanced to look down at

Keywords: Leprosy

the ground... It was the dry season


Fr.William Burridge, W.F.

111 It was the dry season

, somewhere in Africa and the path through the scrub was inches deep with fine grey dust. I was standing talking I, with my White Father companion and after a while chanced to look down at the ground. There at my feet was a leper. He had silently dragged himself along in the dust unnoticed. He was looking up, his eyes fixed on mine.

It was a moment I shall never forget, a moment of truth that suddenly put the world into a poignant perspec

tive. It was nothing to do with the horror of the poor man's deformity— one had seen worse. It was the poignancy of the relationship between us in that instant that struck me like the sudden whisk of a lash, the speechless bewilderment at having a fellow human being and my brother in Christ lying at my feet and 'looking up at me in pitiful wretchedness and pleading. It didn't make sense. It was as though the human race was suddenly divided into two categories, those who

are victims of leprosy and those who are not. Which is not at all the same kind of thing as saying that there are people who have a particular disease and the rest of the world that has not. Leprosy is not only a disease. it is a state, a condition. Left unaided it is a subhuman condition. My brother at my feet had lost all aspect of human dignity. He ought to have been standing upright like me. But one glance at his feet and legs showed that he never would. He could perhaps have been lifted up and given a long pole to hold himself erect. But you need fingers to clasp a pole. His features Should have been mobile and expressive as other men's but sores and swellings held his face in an expressionless, masklike rigidity. Only his eyes moved in a hungry quest. It was a quest that would never 'he answered. He was too far gone.

But how impressive to see in so many places that quest being answered and even forestalled.

At Ngozi in Burundi on a Wednesday morning you can see a long gaunt silhouette moving up the hill from the leper village to the mission. They are the lepers who have been cared for soon enough to prevent the worst ravages of the disease, coming to get their weekly ration of food for themselves and for the others immobilised in the Village. It is a group that tells a story, the story of the desperate efforts to rescue from the progress of leprosy and to reinstate in society. Amongst them come little children holding up their baskets by the tub of maize to get their ration too.

Perhaps it is at places like Mua in Malawi that you see best the full range of the problem, the combination of the desperate struggle and the great wave of new hope. There is the dispensary Where Joseph, a fully trained African Clinic worker, bends constantly over his microscope examining specimens. There are rooms where the latest treatment is given that medical research has produced, 'the warm wax immersions, the doses of medicaments that can so often arrest the progress of the disease and free little children from it for good. The surgery where minor and major amputations speak of the unwavering determination to win the battle against the incursions of the disease. There are the hundreds of round huts — would they could be replaced with something better — where the old, burntout cases wait patiently for the end and the young families live in ever mounting hope. And the humble hall of a chapel to remind you in whose name it is all being done, and where you face a congregation of lepers of all ages and aspect and Sisters and missionaries whose presence and work explains the serene 'happiness that smiles in this world of leprosy.

And yet while you watch the little children playing happily at Mua a great uncertainty hangs between them and their future. The awful uncertainty whether there will be all the help forthcoming — blurrtly the few pounds it takes to ensure that each of them will continue to have the treatment and care they will need. Or will They too some day lie at someone's feet in the dust and indignity of a scrubland path. For the reality of the situation is that ten million men, women and children are being left uncared for to the ravages of leprosy. The real poignancy is not to have looked into the eyes of a leper at your feet but to know that it need not be if people at home woUld help.

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