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Hansenite Rehabilitated by Church Center Becomes Role Model


June 19 2003

BANGALORE, India (UCAN) -- When people with leprosy stretch out deformed hands for alms, Kalyan Kumar tells them to take life as a challenge and stop cursing their fate.

The 38-year-old single man says he can give such advice because he himself was a Hansenite, a person with leprosy, until 10 years ago.

Kumar now runs a small business managing a government-owned telephone booth at a railway station in Bangalore, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi. Last year, the federal government chose him for a national award for the best self-employed disabled person in India.

Kumar earns a commission on the calls placed through the booth.

He says he shares part of his earnings with Hansenite friends because he understands well their hardship. But he wants each of them to convert their "dirty fate" into a success story as he has done.

Aside from employing himself, he has earned masters´ degrees in sociology and Tamil language, and published two books of poems he wrote to praise God.

A Hindu who claims to be Christian in spirit, Kumar credits a Church center in the city for helping him reach the "turning point" in his life.

Sumanahalli, a center managed by the Claretians, accepted Kumar after his family rejected him. In the local Kannada language, "sumanahalli" means "village of good-hearted people."

Kumar is among 444 people the center has helped find jobs or set up income-generating projects, says its director, Father George Kannanthanam. It has treated and rehabilitated some 4,000 Hansenites since it began 25 years ago.

The priest says Kumar has become "a role model for thousands of leprosy patients who continue to curse their disease and lead a worthless life."

Kumar told UCA News the Church center helped him gain courage and strength to take life as a "positive gift" from God. He said he experienced God´s love at the center, where Jesus "touched" him through priests and nuns when his people rejected him and "the whole world hated me for my disease."

Leprosy turned Kumar´s life upside down. He was working with a finance company after finishing 12th grade when he tested positive for the disease. By the time he went to Sumanahalli at the age of 28, his hands and legs were deformed. Multi-drug therapy healed him, but his family in Puthukotte, in neighboring Tamil Nadu state, refused to accept him even then. A dejected Kumar returned to Sumanahalli and pleaded for readmission.

Father Kannanthanam told UCA News the man´s plight moved the Sumanahalli team, who encouraged him to give the world that rejected him "a befitting reply" through his talents and courage.

Sister Mary Mascarenhas, Sumanahalli´s job placement officer who helped Kumar get the telephone booth, told UCA News the man´s determination and courage helped him come up in life.

Kumar says his success comes from God. He maintains that he experienced God´s "loving care and patronage" only because he had leprosy. "I am what I am today because of that experience," he asserts.

Father Kannanthanam describes Kumar as "very illustrious," saying leprosy "could not exhaust the flame of hope in him."

The poet, scholar and phone-booth manager now stays in a rented house but visits Sumanahalli twice a week to help dress patients´ wounds. He also assists Father Kannanthanam with administrative matters.

Kumar said he took his disease as a challenge and is now preparing a book on leprosy to motivate suffering people toward the joy of hope.

"There is still hope," he tells Hansenite friends who come to his booth to glimpse the medal and citation the Indian president gave him last December.