Not long before the devastating earthquake hit the foothills of the Himalayas I spent a few months just outside of Kathmandu in awe of the dauntingly magnificent giant that is Everest.
The glimpses that I got of her during my stay at the Leprosy Mission hospital gave real opportunity to contemplate the immense strength and perseverance it would take to conquer the highest peak on earth.
Though I was blessed with the privilege to do some amazing trekking in the tranquil heights of the Himalayas, the title of this story does not refer to an Everest that I have conquered myself, but rather an Everest that I witnessed being conquered daily by my new friends at the leprosy hospital in the rural town of Anandaban.
Prior to departing for Nepal I was invited to attend the premier of a film called Beyond the Edge. It is a documentary of one of the greatest stories of human endurance, tenacity and courage in the face of overwhelming odds as it follows the journey that led to Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary becoming the first people to stand on top of the world.
Overcoming indescribable emotional and physical trials in order to claim the peak of Everest made it clear that they deserved their title and subsequent fame. What fascinated me about this epic story, on top of the horrific physical and emotional challenges the pair faced, was the extraordinary amount of assistance from many others to get them there.
Years of planning and over 100 Sherpas were required to carry their food and equipment and assist in navigation throughout the momentous journey.
Their Everest is greater
I couldn't help but reflect on this story as I sat in the shadows of that very mountain, losing a game of chess to a new friend who had suffered the loss of their limbs due to leprosy. While my admiration for Norgay and Hilary was not lost, I found my admiration for my new friend to be far greater.
I can't begin to describe the suffering that a person with leprosy must endure; it is too far beyond my comprehension. Though my knowledge of the devastatingly evil effects of the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, dramatically grew during my stay at the leprosy hospital I would never find the courage to truly empathise with the community of leper sufferers of Anandaban hospital.
Should fame, glorification and titles be based on a conquering of emotional and physical endurance and trials, my new friends deserve the lot. Every day they get up; a challenge in itself that few could ever comprehend.
They get up, and they build loving relationships with each other and form a supportive community, fulfilling their need to laugh and cry together. They invite others, like me, to join them; mercifully withholding the justice that would allow them to shun others as the world has them.
In the midst of the most desperate suffering the world can throw at them, they are finding a peace and comfort in their love for each other. A gift that many who claim to 'have it all' may never know. But it is for them, as it is for so many now in the country of Nepal, a daily battle.
An 'Everest' that looms despairingly over them as they awake each morning to a disfiguration that could send even the most courageous person into a hopeless darkness.
An unnecessary evil
What I found hardest as I journeyed with these beautiful people for the few short months I was with them, was not their disfiguration, not the smell of decaying flesh, not the stories of rejection from their own friends and family, it was learning that leprosy should not even exist. Leprosy, I learned, is one of the most treatable diseases in the world. It is also one of the hardest to contract.
It requires a desperately poor and uneducated community lacking free access to cheap and effective medication.
Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary could not have conquered their Everest without Sherpas; without years of research and education, alongside large amounts of financial, physical and emotional support. How can we expect people suffering leprosy to conquer their Everest's without the same?
My words, my stories and my prayers are the beginnings of a hopeful attempt to play my part in seeing a world without leprosy for "to whom much has been given, much is expected." (Luke chapter 12 verse 48).
Together, we have the power to overcome this unnecessary evil. Like Norgay and Hillary, we have a legacy to leave, an Everest to conquer. Let it be theirs, and not our own.
Sam is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand working as a carpenter while starting up his own social enterprise to assist refugees into employment.
Sam's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-rillstone.html