Thursday, March 7, 2019

The treasures of Kanyakumari: My India teaching mission, part 6

I've been meaning to post about the tail end of my three-week teaching mission in India but have been taken up with a number of things, including preparing for the publication of my memoir, Sunday Will Never Be the Same. So, rather than tell how the rest of my time there went, I would like to show you some images and a video capturing my favorite experience of the trip: the visit I made on February 3 with my friend and co-professor Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., and our friend Andrea Lemon (who was behind the camera) to the Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre in Kanyakumari.

The Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre is a ministry of the Stella Maris Institute for Development Studies, which is run by the Daughters of Mary. Eighty persons live there — leprosy sufferers and their families.

Although leprosy is treatable and has been virtually eliminated in the Western world, in India there are still many people who become infected with it and suffer serious physical damage before they are able to receive treatment. At the Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre, victims of the disease, who are society's outcasts, are able to receive the medical care that they need while living with family members, each family in its own individual house. Their family members who do not already have the disease are protected from infection because sufferers are no longer contagious once treatment is underway.

A resident of the colony makes a necklace with an assist from the Daughters of Mary.

I thank the necklace maker. She gave me and my companions a number of her beautiful creations, but to me it was she and her fellow residents who were the real treasures. I was deeply moved by their warmth and dignity, even joy. The Daughters of Mary recognize and honor their humanity in a way that is radically different from the way they are treated in the outside world.

On the spur of the moment, we made a brief video for friends and family in which Father Gregory pointed out the new water system for which he had fund-raised. The $1,100 donation enabled residents to have running water in each of their homes. No more do they have to carry pails back and forth up the hill to the water tank.

Although the video's sound is poor, you can see the joy we felt among the residents.

The woman in the pink sari lost her tongue to leprosy. She expresses herself through muffled vocal sounds and through face and body language. The head bobble that she makes in the video is, as one online article notes, a distinctive Indian sign of friendship.

I left the colony deciding to spiritually adopt everyone there, which for me translates into praying for them and helping support them financially. If you would like to support them as well, write the Daughters of Mary at the Stella Maris Institute,