THE photograph on the right did NOT come from the publicity department of a film or TV company. It is a picture from real life. The woman is a leper.
Hers is not the sort of story one sees unfolded across the broad expanse of a cinema screen, or within the narrower confines of a television tube in a suburban sitting room.
Hers is not a nice story. It is strictly "X" certificate; not suitable for children, not for the sgeamish, a far remove from entertainment. But the story of this woman, and of the other thousands of lepers around the world is not without its drama.
I caught a hint of this drama this week reading through a selection of letters sent to the St. Francis Leper Guild from mission workers at colonies scattered throughout Africa, South America, India and the Far East.
Take. for example, the letter from Biwasaki in Japan: "On May 18th fire broke out during the night; patients helped each other heroically, taking the blind ones and carrying those without legs. When the police asked one of the little ones if she was afraid the answer came: 'Afraid, no the Sisters are here' . . . The men now live day and night in the recreation hall . . . there are no beds, they lost all while they saved the lives of their companions."
Another letter came from Ndanda (Tanganyika) . . "to feed so many entails big expense . . . last year's harvest was a failure so hunger stalked about and hunger is terrible . . it is not easy to live here — for five months we are almost washed away and for the other seven we suffer from water shortage".
A missionary at Siehili (Rhodesia) writes: "I drive 30 miles to a central village once a week to hold a clinic for lepers of the district, some patients walking a long distance. They do appreciate the treatment and bring a few eggs in gratitude . . ."
From Dapango (Togo): "Two months ago we had to stop treatment as we had no medicines left and some of our patients were very anxious. 'Sister', said one, you will have to hurry up as my sickness is very grave.' Now thanks to the grant from the Guild we can begin again."
These letters are printed in the 68th Annual Report of the Guild, the publication of which coincides with Father Damien's Day (May 11th). The report announces a new record the £30,000 which was donated to it for its work during 1963 was by far the best figure ever achieved.
But as the report goes on to show, even this amount permits little in the way of jam on the leper's crust. The Guild sent £500 for instance, to the colony at Ossiomo in Nigeria — but the colony has 780 in-patients and 11,000 out-patients, In Uganda, the colony at Baluba (410 in-patients, 10,469 out-patients) got £430; Kochira, in Nyasaland got £300 for its 500 in-patients and 67 out-patients; £425 was sent to Okayama, Japan to help with the work of looking after more than 2,500 inpatients.
Some of the 91 colonies listed to which grants were made do receive Government financial assistance; some have to depend largely upon the Guild.
What is surprising is just how much can be done with a very small amount. The report says that Is. 2d. provides a daily food ration for a patient in Burma; £10 cares for a patient for a year in Nigeria; £12 12s. makes possible a two-year-course in Sulphone drugg.
A copy of the report can be obtained from the headquarters of the Guild, 20, The Boltons, London, S.W.10, It provides a moving and challenging story