Last month I went to Mozambique with the Leprosy Mission. There was much that was heartening compared with my trip to Ethiopia two years ago, which left me praying for the Apocalypse to end such suffering, as I visited the dwellings of the outcasts, picked my way through human excrement and marvelled at the faith which bore it all.
The single biggest obstacle to progress in fighting leprosy is stigma. It isolates people with the disease, which in turn means they go into denial about having it until it is too late to prevent serious disability. Governments, eager to pretend they have met the World Health Organisation’s well-intentioned but misconceived aim of eradicating the disease altogether, also go into denial about the extent of leprosy within their countries, which means there is no education about it, including the signs to watch out for.
The areas of Mozambique that I visited were mercifully free of this attitude. Instead of leprosy sufferers being herded into disease-ridden slums and avoided by the rest of society, there appeared to be no stigma at all, with everybody mixing and living quite normally in ordinary villages. There were mobile clinics and self-help groups. Tellingly, none of us was ill throughout the whole trip.
Nevertheless the poverty was appalling, and as ever, the aspect of it that struck me so forcibly was how very little it takes to bring about quite disproportionate improvements in the lives of the poor – which brings me to the watering cans.
On a visit to Litamanda in the district of Macomia, I visited an agricultural project where one man proudly demonstrated to me his watering can. I had to watch while he showed me how it worked. The others said how much they would love watering cans too, instead of the makeshift devices they were using to carry and sprinkle water on the plants.
Well, I thought, that’s easy enough. It won’t cost a fortune to supply one project with a batch of watering cans. It is not as though we are being asked to set up a power station or water purification plant or to supply watering cans for the entire population. What could be simpler?
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