Volunteering with The Leprosy Mission

In April and May 2019 Sonja completed her occupational therapy elective placement with The Leprosy Mission. The Leprosy Mission is a charity who work with people affected by Leprosy. We asked Sonja to share her experience…

I was placed in Naini Hospital, India and volunteered in the pre and post-surgery department. My eight weeks consisted of working full time in the hospital, alongside other occupational therapists and physiotherapists. I lived on the hospital campus, like most of the hospital staff. I spent my evenings and weekends with staff and attended socials, events and church meetings. I also had some opportunity to travel locally, which included a boat ride on the River Ganges or Ganga (see pictures below).

Occupational therapists empower people to do the occupations which are important to them by overcoming barriers and increasing independence. Occupations are all the activities an individual has to do or chooses to do every day. For example, occupations include getting washed and dressed in the mornings, working, household chores and socialising with friends. For people affected by Leprosy, a big barrier to occupations is losing the use of their hands. Leprosy effects some nerves which cause the muscles they supply to become paralysed. In Leprosy, this can cause the disability called claw hand, as well as other disabilities. These disabilities can significantly impact a person’s ability to complete occupations on their own.

Naini Hospital, I volunteered in, is a specialist centre for completing tendon-replacement surgery which can correct deformities. Alongside this surgery, occupationally therapy and physiotherapy is needed to achieve good results. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy in this department involved teaching exercises and stretches, making splints and practicing activities (see pictures below).

Another difficulty for those affected by Leprosy is the stigma people have towards them. This stigma can make it difficult for those who have had Leprosy to access work and education and often decreases marriage prospects. The additional benefit of the surgery, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, is that post-surgery hands make it more difficult to notice an individual has had Leprosy and therefore the stigma is decreased.

Working in another country was a big challenge. I had to adapt to a different culture and a different way of professional working. Although I learnt some Hindi, the language barrier was another challenge for me. While I worked in India, the temperature was around 45 degrees centigrade during the day and the hospital had limited air conditioning. For someone from England, this is an uncomfortable environment to work in. However, all these challenges were made easier by the brilliant hospital staff who were super friendly and helpful.

Thank you to The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust for supporting my elective financially.

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