Follow the Star

In 2018 I led a media trip for The Leprosy Mission’s Christmas campaign “Follow the Star”.

The campaign followed a team of medics as they travelled by car, wooden fishing boat and on foot into the remote Sundarbans islands on the Bay of Bengal.

Our task was to tell the stories of the medics, the unfolding story of those being treated, and to illustrate the incredible lengths they would go to to find and cure leprosy. The communities we visited hadn’t seen a doctor for over ten years.

I filmed and produced a creative film “Follow the Star” which I split into a series that was shared over social media in the lead up to Christmas. The film illustrated a donors gift, the “Christmas Star”, as it travelled from an English post box by plane, land and sea, into the hands of someone affected by leprosy. Providing them with the cure:

Follow the Star – Dr Helen lead a team of medics to the remote Sundarbans Islands

I shared my own experience in the medical camp through vlogs:

The Sundarbans is a huge mangrove forest in the delta formed by the meeting of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It spans from the Hooghly River in India’s state of West Bengal to the Baleswar River in Bangladesh. Our boat travelled along a delta river with Bangladesh on one side, India on the other.

We stayed in a small guest house, the front door just 12 feet from the river. A tiger reserve on the opposite bank. We ate on the rooftop with the team we had travelled with: A team of highly skilled medics. Fresh fish cooked with curry spices. Quickly we began the day, the team carrying their equipment by hand and wooden hand cart to an old school hall. No windows. 90% humidity. As they set up their camp, the waiting queue of local villagers steadily grew. Children played in the dust, giggling as we played peek-a-boo. No doctors had been on this island for ten years. The village took advice and medicine from witch doctors and untrained pharmacists. This small, powerfully effective ‘pop-up’ camp saw, diagnosed and treated diabetes, heart disease, skin conditions … leprosy. Over 100 people in a day. They even had an ophthalmologist.

I watched, observed, laughed with people, filming and interviewed those who were treated and were happy to take part. The people. The stories. The passion growing. Knowing we could go home and do something to help support this team of doctors, nurses and medics, each giving beyond what we can understand.

Sometimes it feels surreal to remember once I’m home, but I can still feel the sway of the boat, the heat, the energy of the team we went with, the bustle of colourful sari’s. Walking alongside paddy fields watching the sunset. So grateful for such an intimate insight into this world.

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