Friday 20 March, Dhaka

“We went to one slum district in Dhaka and weaved our way between the shacks made of wood and iron. Then the path became a bridge made of rickety bamboo, two metres above a pool of many things I did not want to contemplate. ‘Don’t drop anything you want to keep’ was the advice I was given.

I made my way gingerly along the path, watching my feet so closely that I often hit my head on the low roof jutting out from the walls. The path was a maze turning corners between the huts. At every door I was met with curious faces, many open smiles and some reserved expressions. Women squatted in the open doorways with their youngest children, cooking a small meal over a basic stove in the narrow alleyway.

We came to one home and entered the small room, about eight foot square. Here a support group of about 14 people, mostly women, were gathered. I took off my shoes and they made space for me on the floor, sitting in the middle as they leaned against the walls.

A similar leprosy support group meets near Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh
A similar leprosy support group meets near Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh

They are all affected by leprosy, either patients or family members. They were beautiful and welcoming and proud. They showed me their accounts book and explained how they had started to save together each month, keeping it all in a joint bank account and each month giving small grants to group members as they had need.

I asked them how their lives were different from being part of this group and they told me their stories. This woman had been treated for leprosy and her right hand was still clawed as a result of nerve damage. One side of her face drooped and one eye was gone. But she spoke with pride as she told me that she used to be a beggar, going every day to try and get some money for her family, but with a loan for the group she had bought a rickshaw for her husband who was now earning enough that she had stopped begging.

They all spoke their stories with this same quiet pride of how they had worked together to improve their lives. Initially given support from The Leprosy Mission to start up, they were now self-sufficient. And despite the situation of this home I was sitting in they were slowly improving their lives and proud of it…

Later on the way back to the TLM Guesthouse my driver asked me if I was upset? No, not upset, just trying to take it all in.”