Wearing a simple dress and an innocent smile, twelve-year-old Saraswati Etlapuram seems like any other carefree little girl who lives in Hyderabad, India. Below the surface, however, she ponders questions about injustices that she doesn’t understand:
Why do people shun me?
Why am I not permitted to attend school like other children?
Is it true that I will never be married?
Although she is perfectly healthy, Saraswati is treated like a leper—because her parents have leprosy.
Saraswati is not alone. In India—a nation that has more cases of leprosy than any other—countless children of lepers are treated as outcasts of society, just like their parents.
Modern leprosy is generally not very contagious. Two doses of specialized antibiotics halt the progress of the disease, making it essentially incommunicable. Still, leprosy’s stigma doesn’t die easily in India. Lepers are considered cursed, and they are often driven from their own homes and disowned. Most can’t find jobs, so they resort to begging to survive. Few people will even associate with a leper’s family members, and the children of lepers are banned from attending school.
In Hyderabad, where Saraswati and her family live with over four million other inhabitants, the city council passed an ordinance that forbids lepers from begging. That ordinance forced an estimated four thousand lepers and their families to the city outskirts, where they cling to a precarious existence.
With assistance from Heaven’s Family’s Lepers Fund, our ministry partner in Hyderabad, pastor Joab Lohara, has been doing all he can to serve the city’s banished lepers, providing food, clothing, blankets, soap, medicines, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was through his ministry that Saraswati’s parents came to Christ. Joab laments, however, that he has been unable to do anything to provide an education for the outcast children of lepers. He told us of his dream to open a special school just for them. Just $20 per child per month could pay for a rented building and the salaries of two teachers, as well as books, meals, and some medical attention.
Joab’s proposal proved too irresistible, and after much prayer, we’ve pledged to him that we will do our best to find 35 sponsors who will give $20 per month so that his school can open its doors to 35 children of lepers.
Saraswati dreams that she will be one of those blessed students. She also dreams of being a teacher herself one day. We hope to make her dreams come true.