Amar Timalsina knows how it feels to be an outcast among his own people.
When he turned 12, Amar was struck down with a mysterious disease. Pale patches began appearing on his body. His family took him to traditional healers in his village in remote Nepal, but they could not identify the illness.
A family friend convinced Amar’s parents to take him to a physician in Kathmandu, who diagnosed him with leprosy.
Amar stayed at the Anandaban Leprosy Hospital for three months. During this time, news of Amar’s ailment escaped the walls of his family home and into the neighbourhood.
When Amar returned to his village, he discovered his friends had become strangers.
“No one was willing to come near me; no one would extend a hand to hold me,” Amar said.
“Eyes stared from a distance and kept me at bay as though I was an outcast.”
Amar was the only person in his community with leprosy.
Even Amar’s own family did not want to touch him, despite the fact he was no longer infectious.
“For a child, the pain of being deprived of a mother’s touch and a father’s stroke is next to death,” Amar said.
“My siblings became far-off things; they were out-of-bounds to me.”
Amar was eventually cured after six years of intermittent treatment. But the stigma associated with leprosy has far longer effects than the physical symptoms.
One day, Amar’s father informed him he had found a girl from a distant village to marry him.
Amar and his wife were happily married, until she discovered he once had leprosy. Her behaviour changed and she asked for a divorce.
“That was probably the worst moment in my life,” Amar recalled.
Heartbroken, Amar fell into a depression and contemplated suicide.
“It was a very hard time for me. I loved her a lot. But I was compelled to sign the divorce paper,” Amar said.
“The only reason was because I had once suffered from leprosy.”
Leprosy remains a significant problem in many developing countries. A person is diagnosed with the illness every two minutes.
However, leprosy is completely curable. While Amar had to endure six years of treatment, modern medical technology means leprosy patients can be cured with antibiotics in just one year. In most cases, patients are no longer infectious within 48 hours of their first dose.
Amar believes education is key to combating stigma. He is currently the President of IDEA Nepal, an organisation advocating for people affected by leprosy. He is also a board member of The Leprosy Mission International and on the advisory panel of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations.
During an annual retreat with The Leprosy Mission in 2015, Amar listened to devotional sessions led by Sheldon Rankin, CEO of Leprosy Mission Australia. Inspired by his sermons, Amar decided to convert to Christianity.
“I first heard about Jesus when I was 12-years-old and diagnosed with leprosy at the hospital. But it took me a long time to come to faith,” Amar said.
“I used to be worried about many things. I only saw problems. My life was full of problems, full of tension and anxiety.
“Now, I don’t worry. I have been living more for others than for myself.”
Despite the immense suffering he has endured, Amar believes his leprosy has been a blessing to bring him closer to God.
“I think it was God’s will for me to have leprosy,” Amar said.
“If I had not suffered the disease, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the love of Jesus.
“The people I have met during my travels, especially those affected by leprosy, have made me realise that compassion is the biggest binding cord in the world, and the surest remedy to any ailment on earth.”
Back in Nepal, Amar is no longer an outcast. He is a respected member of the community and a renowned advocate for people with leprosy.
“My mother, brothers and sisters are happy with the progress I have made in my life. There is no discrimination now,” Amar said.
In addition to his role as a leprosy advocate, Amar is also the principal of a school in Kathmandu. Amar said his desire to fight discrimination inspired him to pursue a career in teaching.
“I was rejected by my friends and my teachers,” Amar explained.
“No one wanted to exchanged a word with me and I became a subject of derision.
“That’s why I chose this profession – so that I can support other children who are affected by leprosy, or from other marginalised groups, in their education.”
When Amar was teaching in a village in Nepal, he met a local woman called Mim.
They fell in love and are now married with two children: a 19-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter.
“I found a soul mate with whom I can share my past and she happily accepted me as my partner in life,” Amar said.
“Medicine might cure the blot on the skin, but only love and compassion can heal our hearts.”
Amar is currently sharing his story at The Leprosy Mission Australia events throughout Australia for World Leprosy Sunday. The Leprosy Mission Australia is inviting churches and groups across the country to hold a World Leprosy Sunday event or a Cuppa for a Cure tea party to help overturn the stigma. Find out how your congregation can make a difference at www.leprosymission.org.au/get-involved/world-leprosy-sunday/