Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Micro-credit help to leprosy-affected persons

Micro-credit help to leprosy-affected persons
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Muthushah, age 42, a carpenter located in the Bharthapuram colony in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu. Syed Kamal Pasha, age 46, a rabbit farmer located in Thiruvallur, Chennai. Uduman, age 44, a street vendor located in the Vandalur colony in Chennai. What do these people have in common? All three are affected by the infectious disease, leprosy. Once cast away by society, now, through the help of the micro credit loan system, they have become shining examples of the successful man.

As of this day, India possesses the largest group of leprosy patients in the world at around 250,000 people. Those afflicted by this awful and debilitating disease are ostracized and sent off to leprosy homes or colonies. These homes and colonies are usually located in isolated areas at the outskirts of the town or city, away from normal people.

Leprosy, the centuries old permanently disabling disease, is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. This was originally discovered in 1873 by the Norwegian physician, Gerhard Armauer Hansen. This disease causes horrible deformities in humans by causing lesions that may affect the whole limb. It is not a hereditary disease as many people long ago used to believe. The good news is that the cases of leprosy are decreasing at a steady rate world wide. Yet there are still large numbers of people who are afflicted with this disease and they cannot be ignored.

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there are almost 15,000 leprosy-affected people. They are accommodated in ten government run homes and 45 leprosy colonies. Each home contains about 400 people and each colony about 20 to 130 families. Those in government homes are provided free food and medical care; non-governmental organizations and philanthropists provide the same for those living in the colonies.

Muthusha used to work as a carpenter before he contracted leprosy and was admitted to CLTRI (leprosy hospital). When he was discharged from the hospital three years later, he found himself to be without a family, a job, his whole life as he had known it was gone. Finding himself all alone, he began relying on the kindness of the people of Bharathapuram, but this was most certainly not how he would live for the rest of his life. Hope came to Muthushsa in the form of the Danish government funded projectDANIDA. He received a small loan from them to purchase tools and materials to start up a carpentry business.

After Muthusha started making progress in his business he promptly returned the first loan and immediately acquired a second as well as a third loan to help further grow his business. He employed 12 to 15 people from his colony as well as nearby villages to help him execute orders. Appreciating his entrepreneurial ability, the Rising Star organization (RSO) and NGO, an organization that works to help leprosy-affected people, gave him more advanced electrical tools to help him become more efficient.

Catching up with Mathusha today, we find that his business is flourishing. He has since remarried and now has three children. All three of his children go to public schools and possess no deformities.

Mathusha's story is not the only success story that micro credit can take some credit for. There are others, like Syed Kamal Pasha, who have benefited in the same way. Pasha runs a rabbit farming business at his house. His house is located in leprosy colony in the Thiruvallur district. After rearing them here, he sells the rabbits in Chennai. He is able to return his loans while getting new ones and therefore expanding his business at an admirable rate.

Uduman, another leprosy-affected person, started a street vending shop at Vandalur colony in Chennai. He was able to do so thanks to the micro credit loan he obtained from the NGO. His wife runs the shop and together they have become quite successful.

The moving spirit behind this magnificent project is Padma Venkataraman (daughter of the former president of India Ramaswamy Venkataraman). Venkataraman has been laboring selflessly to rehabilitate and help re-establish leprosy-affected people for the past 16 years.

“Prior to this, no one had come up with the idea of helping leprosy affected people through micro credit loans. Most of them gave blankets, clothes, rice and medicine as charity. Nobody thought to help them get up on their own two feet and teach them to make a life for themselves. This idea took some getting used to even to the people affected by leprosy. They were apprehensive at first when they were exposed to the idea of receiving money as a loan and not as charity. Before this, the idea of living beyond a day-to-day existence had not crossed their minds. We however were convinced that we were making the right move Venkataraman told us in an exclusive interview.

A Welfare Committee consisting of five members was formed in each colony which included at least two women. These five were given leadership and management training. After the formation of this committee, all the 30 colonies which were covered under the WIA DANIDA project, managed to collect the loan repayment, deposited it in the bank and sent a monthly report along with a copy of the bank statement. The treasurer of the welfare committee and Venkataraman hold a joint bank account for the colonies.

The entire management of the disbursal of the micro- credit loan was handed over to the people of the colony and now they have slowly started to learn the responsibilities of life. The whole system is working very well says Venkataraman with a great sense of achievement.

Becky Douglas of Rising Star Organization is full of praises for Padma Venkatraman. We at Rising Star were struggling to come up with ideas to help leprosy affected people become productive members of the society. We were fortunate enough to locate Padma who took this concept forward. The money given to her was judiciously spent, and there were many innovations in the disbursal of the funds,� Said Douglas as she spoke about Rising Star operations in India.

Micro credit loans seem to be the cutting edge idea for the empowerment of society particularly for those who are at the bottom of the heap and have little chance to come up in life. Those engaged in this altruistic endeavor are certainly worthy of applause.

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