Since 2010, the Grand Commandery has provided regular support to, and built a long-term relationship with, the Women In Need (WIN) charity based in Nagpur, India. WIN is run by a remarkable woman, Leah Pattison.
Leah grew up in Weardale, County Durham and after graduating with a Fine Arts degree she undertook some voluntary work in India in 1995. This involved working at a Leprosy colony in Dattapur, Wardha, where her task was to teach English to young girls at the hostel there. This experience totally altered her life plan to become an artist. Leah was so moved by the particular plight of the women and children she encountered suffering from leprosy that she found herself returning to India and to Dattapur to continue working there. In 1997 Leah was to experience first hand the ordeal of her new friends when she herself contracted leprosy. It required a year of treatment before leah was pronounced clear of the disease. At Dattapur she had met and become close friends with a young Indian woman called Usha Patil, who had suffered severely from leprosy from the age of ten and who had undergone nine years of treatment and reconstructive surgery before being freed from the disease. Their friendship became a special bond formed through the sharing of adversity. Usha was the first person to notice the symptoms of Leah’s leprosy and so, as Leah had supported Usha through her illness, Usha now sustained Leah through her own crisis. The outcome was that they both decided to devote their future to the care of leprosy sufferers and, towards this end, they both qualified as leprosy paramedical workers at the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation in Wardha in 1999.
The Grand Commandery of the Castello has actively supported this project for the past year. We are driven by two facts. First, we talk direct to Leah’s mother, Sandra, who lives in Bishop Aukland, Co Durham and works as Leah’s administrative support. From Sandra we can get minute by minute updates on the project progress and it is direct to Sandra that our donations go. Second, we highly applaud the fact that this young woman Leah not only treats the discarded women of India for leprosy and AIDS, but also strives to rehabilitate them back with their husbands, children and families and into productive work after successful treatment. This often means weeks of painstaking and frustrating argument and persuasive discussion with family and employers alike to take the patient back into society to live a normal and useful life once more.
Our aim is to help Leah set up a custom built clinic in her district of Dattapur and in this respect, the Grand Commandery initially donated £12,000. You can read and see more about this project at www.youtube.com/user/markashleyfilms Mark who is Leah’s brother, has produced these film clips.
In March 2010, the Grand Commandery agreed at its Annual General Meeting to donate €12,000 to the ‘Women in Need’ project to buy an ambulance for use at Leah Pattison’s Dattapur Leprosy centre.
Leah and Usha standing outside the Ambulance donated
by the Grand Commandery of the Castello - 1st December 2010
At the 2011 Annual General Meeting held in March, members of the Grand Commandery present unanimously agreed to donate the equivalent in Euro of £6,500 Sterling in continued support of the 'Women in Need' charity in India. Leah Pattison has now received the donation and the money will be used to set up a small but essential hospice in Dattapur. It will be equipped with beds and other support equipment for a clinic designed to treat chronically ill patients, especially those suffering from Leprosy. This was followed by a further €3200 towards the end of the year.
In 2012 we announced a further £7,500 Sterling to support the maintenance of our ambulance, payable in three annual installments.
At the December 2012 Council meeting, looking forward to Christmas, it was decided to present Leah with a further €1000 donation to the hospice in Dattapur, for a project of her choice.
Our Hospitaller, Chev Paul Warren went out to India in March 2013 at the invitation of Leah to see at first hand how our money was being spent.
Paul Warren and Leah Pattison at the Leper Colony near Dattapur
Paul was very impressed with what he saw. Apart from being present at the weekly clinic in Nagpur, he also spent two days at the Leper Colony in Dattapur, and did a clinic run in the ambulance purchased by the Grand Commandery a few years ago.
The ambulance in use in Nagpur
Following this visit, the Grand Commandery has donated further funds, approximately €5,000, to set up some of the women in small businesses, and to buy an auto rickshaw for the leper colony.
Dr Sharma(head of the Colony) and Paul Warren begin the annual spring cleaning at the Leper Colony
Donation of Motorised Rickshaw
In 2014 we donated an auto rickshaw to Women In Need.
WIN’s shelter for homeless women in Wardha is eight kilometres away from nearby hospitals and four kilometres from the local town centre. Public transport is unreliable and especially in the event of an emergency.
The auto rickshaw has a 4-stroke engine and provides efficient and convenient travel, thus eliminating all the previous difficulties.
The Motorised Rickshaw with our Intrepid Hospitaller at the Controls.
Funding of Businesses for Women in Difficulty
10 women were recipients of businesses funded by the Grand Commandery. These ranged from general stalls and chilli stalls, to a variety of sewing machines, all enabling women to earn from home whilst looking after their children.
The majority of these women are single mothers, for whom balancing work and home has been a constant battle.
Leah reports that one candidate, suffering from cervical cancer, has found a sense of purpose through her jewellery business. Her elder daughter is able to continue the work in her mother’s absence on days when she is unwell.
One of the Businesses whose setup was funded by the Grand Commandery