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Locals return from India mission

A group of Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church members are back in the United States after two weeks in India, but they left plenty behind to be remembered by.

Students at the Bhogpur Children’s Home, a residential school for the healthy children of parents suffering from leprosy, will think of the group every time they see the paint on the walls, the faucets in the bathroom, the seesaw on the playground and one stuffed moose named Daniel.

The team of eight from Suffolk visited the home for two weeks in June, doing sorely needed building and grounds repairs. The home is the permanent residence of about 480 children whose parents are suffering from leprosy, a highly treatable but socially stigmatizing disease.

“I thought I could be really beneficial to the team,” said Daniel Joyner, 20, who works construction part-time. His uncle, Buddy Joyner, led the trip, and he had always wanted to go with his uncle on a mission trip, he said.

Children at the home, which was founded in 1945 by Christian missionaries, are placed there by their parents in hopes of a better life. Although modern science has proven that leprosy, a skin disorder, is not as easily spread as once thought, those with leprosy still are considered outcasts by their communities.

Hinduism, the predominant religion in India, teaches that diseases like leprosy are retribution by the gods for evil done in a past life, Buddy Joyner said. As a result, sufferers cannot obtain any employment besides begging in the streets, and therefore have neither the time nor the resources to care for their children.

Treatment for leprosy is free through the World Health Organization, but few come forward to receive it because of the stigma attached to the disease. Allowed to progress, the disease causes disabilities that cannot be treated with medication.

India accounts for nearly three-quarters of new leprosy cases worldwide each year, according to the Bhogpur school’s website.

The children’s home received a much-needed facelift from the Westminster team, Joyner said. The team painted the facility, made repairs, installed plumbing, caulked fixtures and even built a playground.

Despite spending nearly every hour of daylight doing construction tasks, the team still got the chance to minister to the children.

“There was this one little girl with a broken arm,” Joyner said. “She was really special. I talked to her a lot.”

Before the trip ended, Joyner gave his new friend a stuffed moose — one that she named after him.

“She just about started crying,” he said. “She named it Daniel.”

Children at the home attend classes during the day and perform housekeeping chores in the afternoons, according to its website. The school stresses Christian values, love for all and “acceptance of all that is noble in Indian culture.” The children’s parents visit once a year — a highly anticipated event in the school.

Meals usually include beans and rice, Joyner said. Meat is served about once a month, because that is all the school is able to afford.

“They’re down to basically food and clothing,” Buddy Joyner said.

Despite their meager living conditions, however, the children were in good spirits and happy to help, Daniel Joyner said.

“It was amazing how happy these kids are when, by our standards, they have pretty much nothing,” he said. “They’d grab the paintbrushes right out of your hand.”

Joyner said the things he witnessed in India — particularly outside the school — made him thankful to live in America.

“There were two little girls that couldn’t have been more than 5 years old that were begging for a bite to eat,” he said. “That was rough. Going over there really made me appreciate America and what we have.”

For more information about the Bhogpur home, or to donate, visit www.home4children.com.