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ADOOR — We arrived in Adoor yesterday, our last stop before heading back to Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum.

Since we only had one day and night to spend in this city, our Rotarian guides organized a full day of events to acquaint us with the city.

Our last stop, however, likely changed my life forever. We visited India’s first-ever hospitals, built more than 100 years ago, which have been converted into a colony for lepers.

Leprosy has existed since about 2000 B.C. and is thought to have originated in India. It affects about a quarter of a million people worldwide. Seventy percent of those cases are in India.

Once diagnosed with the disease, lepers are required by law to be confined to a hospital, where they live out their lives on single cots in open buildings without air conditioning. leper

They are legally restricted from driving, running in an election and riding on trains in areas of India. A person may legally request a divorce if their spouse is discovered to have leprosy. Many of the laws have not been updated since the invention of medicine to treat the disease.

I had never seen a leper in my lifetime, and to be honest, I wasn’t aware the disease existed anymore.

So I was surprised there was an entire colony of people living with the disease.

We walked by the cots where each of the women were sleeping. Many were missing their fingers and parts of their legs and were blinded by the long-term defects to their eyes, which aren’t able to close. The women were delighted to meet us and raised their palms to their chest to greet us with an enthusiastic namaskaram, or namaste.

Visitors are rare at leprosy colonies, and many of the patients were exiled by their families. Many will live and die without family visitation.

We met women who’d been living at the hospital for 50 years or more; many of whom were cured from the illness but too badly deformed to be accepted by family.

The government of India provides the funding to keep the hospital and patients running, but it seems there could be more done to care for people who no one wants any thing to do with.

Leprosy is a horrible disease, and when I return home, I may have a new humanitarian project on my hands.

Until tomorrow, Victoria.