Suresh and Mangala, leprosy champions and husband and wife
Because of leprosy, Suresh and Mangala both faced enormous challenges before they met each other. Now they are happily married, parents to three beautiful children, and they use their work to transform the lives of persons affected by leprosy in India.
Growing up was difficult for Suresh
Suresh was born in Maharashtra. He was the oldest of five children and his parents owned a farm. While he was still a child, Suresh noticed pale patches on his hands and his face became red and oily.
After being given bad advice from a traditional healer, Suresh was eventually referred to someone who diagnosed him with leprosy. Suresh and his family were so afraid of the stigma that would come from leprosy that they avoided making regular trips to the leprosy hospital so Suresh could be treated. They didn’t want anyone in the community to know he had leprosy.
Sadly, his family did not realise that Suresh had to receive regular treatment in order to be cured of leprosy. Because he did not receive the medication he needed, the disease progressed and Suresh became seriously unwell. By the time he was brought to the leprosy hospital, he could not get out of bed or walk.
Suresh worried that leprosy would force him into a life of begging. He received wonderful care in the hospital but when the time came for him to be discharged, he was terrified about what prospects he would face. Leprosy had kept him from school and caused serious disabilities.
Mangala’s story was very similar
Mangala was her parents’ first child and she was born with a cleft lip. She grew up in a place where being born both a girl and a person with a deformity created huge stigma. When she was still a child, Mangala’s parents felt this pressure so much that they made the trip to take her to the orphanage. Only a chance encounter with an elderly lady on the way to the orphanage changed her parents’ mind.
Mangala grew up facing stigma in school because of her cleft lip and she feared the worst when she was also diagnosed with leprosy. The disease made her unwell and although she worked hard, she could not pass her exams.
Her father had dreamt that she would become a nurse and when she failed her exams, she felt that she was once more a failure in his eyes.
Mangala remembers that whenever guests would visit her family home, her parents would send her outside so she would not be seen. This hurt Mangala deeply and she began to feel as though her life was a burden to them. She thought of killing herself many times.
Suresh and Mangala’s lives began to turn around at the Vocational Training Centres
In India, The Leprosy Mission runs Vocational Training Centres (VTCs). These VTCs are places where persons affected by leprosy, their family members, and persons with disability can go to learn a trade. Both Suresh and Mangala had the opportunity to attend a VTC.
Suresh was sent to the VTCs when he was discharged from the hospital and Mangala had the opportunity to go a while after she had failed her school exams.
Suresh took part in a computer training programme and Mangala was on the Stenography and Secretarial Practice course. Both of them see the time they spent at the VTCs as a turning point in their lives.
The two youngsters excelled in their studies and because of their great work, they were offered opportunities to join the team of The Leprosy Mission in India.
Suresh and Mangala are a happy couple, hard working parents, and leprosy champions
Suresh and Mangala met while they were classmates at the VTC. They started out as friends and on New Year’s Day 2010, they were married.
Since then, the happy husband and wife have gone on to amass an incredible list of achievements. They both gained Undergraduate and Masters Degrees. They both work for TLM India, where they work directly with 4,000 persons affected by leprosy and disabilities to ensure they can access sustainable and dignified livelihoods. They have become highly valued and respected colleagues within TLM.
They have each travelled the world to tell their stories, to share their insights, and to have their professional and personal opinions heard at high-level conferences and meetings.
In 2013, Suresh received a National Award from the President of India, an award that recognised him as a role model for people across the nation.
They have three beautiful children that they are raising together while they continue with their incredible work as leprosy champions in India. Like leprosy champions across the world, Suresh and Mangala show us all just how life can be lived in all its fullness.