Viet Nam News
GIA LAI - As a daily habit, Siu Jeh visits a village where people infected with leprosy live in Ia Ka Commune, Chư Pah District in Central Highlands Province of Gia Lai.
Despite losing some fingers, leper Rơ Chăm C’Mlo can still skillfully knit baskets. The baskets he makes are given to other lepers for use or to be sold at market. He is one of among 70 lepers being helped by Siu Jeh.
Siu Jeh, a skinny 60-year-old woman from Ja Rai ethnic group, founded this village.
More than 30 years ago, Siu Prõi, Siu Jeh’s father who is infected with leprosy was abandoned by his community over fears the disease would spread. Siu Prõi decided to move away with his wife, daughter and other lepers. Since then more and more lepers have moved there to live togther, giving the area the “leprosy village” moniker.
The lepers suffer not only pain, skin lesions and the gradual loss of their limbs but also discrimination. Siu Jeh helps them take water, chop down firewood and cook along with personal hygiene advice and bandaging.
Feeling sympathy for them, Siu Jeh came to other villages to ask for old clothes then fixed them to give to the lepers.
At first, the patients felt inferior and did not let her approach them. Siu Jeh had to talk to them, encourage them and live, eat together with them. Gradually she got close to the patients.
Children of lepers are often neglected by society over worries of transmission. In 1989, Siu Jeh decided to open a class for children aged five to 18 at the leprosy village. Since then she has been a voluntary teacher in the village.
One year later, the Red Cross built a house with two classrooms. Siu Jeh named it the school of love.
Since she came to the village, people support each other more. The pessimism covering the village has been replaced with optimism.
Leprosy patient Rơ Chăm Pyoi was abandoned by her children and helped by Sui Jeh. Surrounded by love from other lepers, she found a partner who is also a leper in the village.
A leprosy patient named Mich also used to be neglected. After learning about her circumstance, Siu Jeh walked dozens of kilometers to meet her and take her to the village.
“Now I am given medicine and money to buy rice. I am no longer afraid of starving and dying,” she said.
“About 20 patients have been cured of the disease and reintegrated into the community. They plant pepper, coffee trees and raising animals the,” Siu Jeh said.
Head of administrative unit of Bluk Blui village A Ruên said that the village has 145 households with more than 500 people living stable lives.
Siu Phul, Siu Jeh’s younger sister has continued her sister’s work to become a voluntary teacher at the leprosy village’s school.
“Three generations have grown up in the village. The discrimination no longer exists. Now villagers discuss trading and harvesting,” Siu Peh said.
Ksor Sum, chairman of Ia Ka Commune’s the Committee said that every month local officials donate money to buy food for leprosy villagers.
“We couldn’t find another second person who would stay with lepers for 30 years like Sui Jeh,” he said.
Asked what motivates her to spend her life with lepers, Siu Jeh just simply answered “It is all about sympathy”. - VNS