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06 February 2018

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One of the small efforts my chapel does is to collect stamps which can be on or off paper from any country. They are donated to the leprosy mission.

The last figure I saw was that the mission raised £136,000 in 2015. Since the used stamps initiative began it has now passed over a £1 million.

After being aware of mere bible stories, in 1970 I suddenly was faced with a real life leprosy hospital when I became a kiap at Taskul, Lavongai Island, in the then New Ireland District.

If the weather was bad, instead of the shortest route being used to travel by backbreaking aluminium dinghy to Kavieng in open seas from Nusankilo Island, we would go through the more shallow and sometimes treacherous journey threading one’s way through the small group of Tigak islands that sheltered you almost all the way apart for the last dash across the open seas between Lemus Island and the safety of the district’s capital.

The first island we reached was home to the Catholic Mission’s Anelaua Leprosy Hospital. There three devoted nursing sisters looked after their several hundred patients under the watchful eye of Father Koepenik who by then was more often than not at his North Lavongai Puas mission station.

At least two I think were from the original group evacuated by flying boat in the 'Jap War' only to return very quickly after it became safe again.

I think it closed in the 1980s as the isolated facilities were not needed as more knowledge of causes, protection from infection and cures became the norm. It became the Anelaua Vocational Centre.

Sadly I had several friends who started taking tablets to arrest development of the disease only for both of them to think it was safe to stop and they eventually became so ill that one hid himself away in a hut in the mangrove near the old Neipau copra dryer, where he died.

As a government officer I never got off the small boat to have a look around this ‘infectious place’. Only saw a few of the inpatients, some of whom had been born and lived all their lives there, when a few came selling vegetables especially peanuts on our Friday Taskul market.

Only when I returned as a volunteer did my mentor Father Bernie Miller take me ashore to meet the incumbent Father for a cool drink of lemon and perhaps get some delicious pomelo which grew all over the hospital area.

Being new to the Catholic Mission I was given a tour of the facilities which included a Methodist church as well as an expected Catholic one.

The classrooms and vocational areas were spotless and everywhere the grass around the buildings were kept short mostly by patients.

I was able to shake hands with some of them and several offered me peanuts and mangos for my journey. Their children were at lessons in one of several buildings. All in all a memorable experience and an informative culture shock.

Val Bock was one of many dedicated nurses serving in this sphere of health and a book I enjoyed was by Dorothy Clarke Wilson 1985 entitled ‘Ten Fingers for God - The life and work of Dr Paul Brand’. Publisher: ISBN-10: 0964313707. Well worth a read.

Kiaps and other expatriates together with the early missionaries and laity did a tremendous job in health and education.

Missionaries not only preach the gospel and concern about spiritual activity but promote holistic human development through various programs and activities.

Leprosy is a disease that affects innocent human beings who are helpless to build their own house, make gardens and find their own food and water.

Some of us spend time in assisting these people knowing they are God's people. Here in Kundiawa Diocese we have a leprosy outreach program through the St Damien group of St Marys Catholic parish.

We got assistance from individuals and concerned charity organisations like the St Vincent de Paul society of Australia.

We are thankful for the Australians in government, churches and NGOs, their presence is widely acknowledged.

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