I wanted to pay tribute to Eileen Lodge who founded the Nepal Leprosy Trust (NLT), where our main bag and accessories workshop is based. Following a long period of ill health, Eileen Lodge passed away on Friday 11thOctober, aged 94 at her home in Kathmandu.
Though I was never able to meet her due to her ill health, over the years working with NLT I have heard many great stories about her pioneering work in Nepal and her care for those suffering with leprosy. She initially travelled to Nepal in 1953, founded the Green Pastures Leprosy Hospital in Pokhara in 1957 and managed to establish Lalguardh hospital in South Nepal that I visited years ago.
I have found it incredible to hear about this inspiring British woman, who managed to work in Nepal from the 1950s (at a time when travel wasn’t so easy or the world so small!), helping marginalised people from a totally different culture through many decades. Hearing about this strong independent woman making things happen in harder times, really inspired me when I first started to travel to Nepal to set up my own small business and establish my work with producer groups, fresh out of university!
From the stories I have heard, she was a fierce force to be reckoned with (she would have to be to establish the hospitals and services she was able to around Nepal bureaucracy) but incredibly caring and kind, helping so many Nepali people improve their lives. She dedicated her own life to helping so many others - an impressive legacy and incredible female role model I think.
Here is a NLT UK’s tribute to her life story, that I wanted to share:
Eileen travelled to Nepal in 1953, joining two medical missionaries, Dr Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steele, who founded Shining Hospital in Pokhara. Eileen went on to found Green Pastures Leprosy Hospital in Pokhara in 1957, moved by the terrible conditions suffered by those affected with leprosy, and became its Superintendent until the later 1960s. Eileen then moved to Kathmandu to carry leprosy work east, and assisted TLM Anandaban hospital for some time, while also working with the leprosy colony at Kokhana on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. During the following few years she rescued a number of children from Kokhana, putting them into various educations and vocational trainings, to prepare them for her vision for the establishment of a leprosy referral hospital in the south east of Nepal where she felt it was desperately needed. Eileen also established several income generating workshops for leprosy-affected people, producing candles, pottery, and leather work. Alongside those she also founded a well-regarded technical school that produced students in various skills areas, including metalwork, carpentry, and secretarial skills. Out of these initiatives, the leather workshop has continued for nearly 50 years and still produces quality leather, cloth and felt goods that are sold around the world.
It was also during this time that Eileen set up Nepal Leprosy Trust as a charity in the UK in March of 1972, providing a formal platform for fundraising, awareness and praying for the work in Nepal. Through these years, Eileen remained committed to obtaining permission to build a leprosy referral centre in south east Nepal, and went on several major fact-finding expeditions to the area around Janakpur, to see what was there. She looked at the then almost non-existent leprosy services, and surveyed for patients. She found many people affected by leprosy who had no access to services, and yet the powers that were in place at the time in Nepal firmly resisted any further mission hospital building and for ten years blocked Eileen’s requests for permission to establish her hospital despite the clear need for it. Eileen used this time well, training groups of people from Kokhana in farming and agriculture, and resettling them onto land given by the government for this purpose. This resulted in two new villages being established in the south of Nepal, and new lives for many people affected by leprosy.
The momentous changes that took place in Nepal in 1989 leading to democracy, also broke the stalemate on the permission to build that Eileen was seeking, and she was finally allowed to proceed. Government land near Lalgadh Village in Dhanusha District was granted, and Lalgadh Leprosy Hospital and Services Centre came into being over the next 6 years. This was in itself a miracle because the financial turnover of NLT was only about £10k per year at that time and the new centre would cost about £650k. Somehow all the money came, and none of it was from governments or major donors – it all came from ordinary people moved to support the work that Eileen was doing. Lalgadh has grown through many challenges over the following 20 years to become a highly regarded and very busy centre for leprosy and dermatology, as well as an innovator in community work to reduce the stigma of leprosy.
Eileen’s drive to take leprosy services further and further east led her to move on from NLT in the later 1990s to found Nepal Leprosy Fellowship which has developed services in the district of Jappa, Morang and Sunsari. Her contribution to leprosy work in Nepal is very considerable and ranges from the west to the far east of Nepal. Eileen has been responsible for establishing leprosy works in Pokhara, Kathmandu, Lalgadh, and Dharan. To do that more effectively she gave up her British citizenship and became a Nepali citizen, and lived there for 66 years, passing away in Kumari Pati in Kathmandu where she had lived for many years.