Vera Belazelkoska, Macedonia, '09
Vera hopes to work for the UN one day where she will be able to explore her interested in international relations, economics, and political science.
This is Vera reporting for this week! I believe Chad left it off with the information of how the beautiful city of Bangkok treated us for our first 4 days of our Thailand adventures. On the 4th day at 9:45 pm we took the bus to Chiang Mai, and when we arrived in early in the morning, we were taken to the McKean Rehabilitation Center where we will be doing most of our volunteer work.
Once we got settled in our houses (primitive little cabins with one room and a bathroom), we met with the staff, the leprosy patients, and the patients with disabilities, and then enjoyed a tour around the center. This first day was important because we were introduced to the McKean institution: a center founded by the Thai-German Leprosy Foundation to cure, assist and support leprosy patients who long have endured discrimination because of the social stigma of the disease. As the center expanded, it created a village for the leprosy patients all of whom have battled leprosy and have been cured, yet were not ready to face society, or were afraid of weather society will accept them. Farming, crafts-work, cooking...the villagers became self-sustaining, while other disabled people began to join the community at McKean. Today, the center is surrounded by the Ping river which makes it look like an island, and it includes a couple of villages (for leprosy patients and for disabled-by-accidents patients), a hospital, a church, an administration building, a soccer field, many hiking paths, as well as it is surrounded by exotic plants, palm trees and beautiful flowers.
Even though many of us wished to stay and spend the remaining 2 weeks, the next two days were scheduled for our trip with the Thai-German Leprosy Foundation staff (Bank and Jim) to the villages where cured leprosy patients who wish to live in their communities, reside. Although, the patients' lives have been forever affected by the disease, and therefore the staff makes a 2 day trip every month, visiting the patients, checking their conditions, donating food, and giving them money to use for necessities. Many of the patients’ skin still may appear like a rash, but the worst effect leprosy has had on most of the affected is the loss of nerves in the extremeties. For example, one man’s fingers have been cut off by accident since he has lost all feeling in both of his hands, and therefore cannot sense pain. Another man’s foot was so deformed and he has lost all feeling in his feet that when he walked for a long time his feet started to bleed without him noticing.
The most moving experience was after our 30 minute hike up a mountain to a village called Keng Toom, that was very close to the Burma border and whose villagers were Illegal Burmese immigrants. The conditions of the village were very bad, while the villagers (all 26 of them) were very secluded from the rest of society and lived in extreme poverty. One boy’s stomach was so swollen up because of malnutrition, though he still had the will to greet us as strangers coming into the village. The leper we went to see lived in a small, dirty house with his wife and their new born child, and the sight of him barely able to hold on to his two month old boy with his deformed hands was very moving. The staff did their routine check up and talk with the leper, while we observed, played with the kids, and tried to imagine weather these people experience happiness, or spend their days just trying to survive. I felt stupid thinking about the lives they lead (with no help form the government since they illegally reside in Thailand), and the way I was preoccupied with my broken iPod on the way to the mountain just a moment ago.
We also visited a 105 year old mother and her son, both of whom are lepers, and both of whom have taken care of each other over the years.
In another village, we visited a woman whose hands and feet were so deformed from leprosy that she could barely even cook up a meal, let along work. Although, I was amazed and fascinated to hear that her husband, who takes care of her now, loved her too much to let her go through it alone, and resided at McKean for two years during her treatment.
After our trip with the staff, we had our weekend to tour around Chiang Mai, visit temples, the Chiang Mai University, meet with alumni and a man who works as an advisor for Thai students who wants to study in the US, ate good Thai food, shopped around in the markets (as well as bargain), and finally got a nice foot massage in the middle of the market! It couldn’t get any better than that! For the events of this past week, Linn will report as soon as we get back to Bangkok! Miss you all!
~Your friends in Thailand :)