One Day with Pat Atkinson

Published on: 1 July 2017

Known as "Patamma" (Pat Mother) to those she works with in the Dhalit communities of southern India, Pat remembers one significant day of of the many over the more than 50 vistis she has made while establishing The Vidiyal Trust.

The interest in leprosy began when at the age of nine I heard a missionary speaking in my church about her work with the Mission to Lepers. I was moved by what she said so I wrote to my local Bishop (of Bath and Wells), who was very encouraging! However, for a myriad of reasons it was over 40 years until I could really experience the complexities of the disease and the stoicism of those who suffer.

Five years ago one of the elders in our street shelter home asked if we could take her to a leprosy colony to visit relatives. We have isolated cases of leprosy among our street elders.

We arrived to a traditional welcome, but people stayed a distance from our group – me in particular, until I moved forward and hugged one of the ladies. That was it! There was real surprise that touching and hugging was acceptable, as even those with mild disfigurement will be shunned on the streets.

I was shocked to see makeshift attempts at replacing limbs with table legs. Worse was the fact that many of their wounds were infected. We sent for antiseptics and bandages, and spent the afternoon trying to clean some of the wounds. They were struggling in many ways (affected by severe drought in our area), clearly they were malnourished. Later that day I was taken to meet Sousai, who had lost a leg and had pulmonary issues relating to his leprosy. He asked me to pray with him, and said that he had been praying for “years” for help for his people.

So we have supported the colony ever since and as a result have also been granted access to the nearby government home where there are 300 or more patients. Sousai died two weeks after we met, knowing that we were there to care for his people. It is a privilege beyond words to love and care for them, wonderful people who never complain in spite of their suffering and disabilities.

Other days are spent in our shelter home for over 100 street elders, our tuition centre for 120 children and with our work with the Regional Cancer Centre where we have responsibility for two ambulances taking palliative care to poor rural areas. We also care for 50 children with cancer living in isolated Dahlit villages. The day with Sousai will always be special. I thank God for him and the privilege of being able to care for his people in Jesus’ name.

It has taken 27 years to reach this point, the majority of our support coming from Norfolk churches and individuals. We are a Christian charity working in a predominantly Hindu area, showing God’s love unconditionally to his people regardless of caste or religion. Touching people – literally touch and love them – where they are, joining in their pains and joys, becoming part of their lives and communities. Matthew 25:40. For Jesus.

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