The journey from the pavement to the classroom – Leprosy was not a stumbling block for Rishu

The journey from the pavement to the classroom – Leprosy was not a stumbling block for Rishu

The ward nurse in the ulcer ward of TLM Muzaffarpur Hospital, Bihar, visits Suman Devi every day to dress her ulcer. She has been doing this for a month now. Suman Devi first visited TLM Muzaffarpur Hospital a few years back where she was diagnosed with leprosy. The physician there put her on multidrug therapy (MDT). She was cured, but leprosy damaged the nerves on her legs, resulting in loss of sensation. That led to ulcer (a secondary complication of leprosy) and now she is in the hospital for ulcer treatment.

The nurse used to see Rishu Kumar, Suman Devi’s 10-year-old son playing in the hospital lobby every day. One day she started a conversation with him. The chatty boy told her how he loved going to school and playing with friends. He shared his ambition of becoming an engineer when he grows up. His curious nature impressed the nurse and their exchanges became frequent. One day, the nurse noticed a pale patch on Rishu’s face and asked him what it was. He gave her a dismissive shrug. She folded a paper into a cone and touched the patch with the tip of the cone asking him to look the other way. He couldn’t feel the touch. She was almost sure he had leprosy. She ran with him to the medical officer who diagnosed him with multibacillary leprosy (advanced stage of leprosy). Immediately he was put on MDT.

Poverty, leprosy, life in the hospital – all these weighed heavily on Rishu… and finally, he quit school.

Suman Devi’s husband, Paswan was angry with her because of her leprosy as she “brought disgrace to his family.” He abandoned her and married another woman. Homeless, Suman Devi moved to the pavement with her son. A plastic sheet was all she could afford as a roof over their heads. She lived there at the mercy of the elements and passers-by.

Being a construction labourer, Paswan would be mostly away from home because of work. When he was away, Suman Devi would move to his house and move out to the pavement when he returned – dividing her life between two callous, cruel worlds!

Rishu’s face always pulled on her heartstrings, but the nurse didn’t know why. She put him in touch with The Leprosy Mission Trust India’s Children Unite for Action (CUFA) project, hoping the project would help him in carving out a future for himself. The project staff counselled him and made arrangements for him to return to school. With the moral support and education scholarship from the project, Rishu is blooming once again. He says, “I will become an engineer when I grow up and support my mother” – with confidence that comes out of deep conviction.