Mandate: To provide free medical treatment and care to destitute sick people, especially those living with leprosy, tuberculosis (TB) or HIV/AIDS.
In 1971, in the Jesuit Province of Darjeeling, a hospice and dwellings for disabled leprosy survivors called Jesu Ashram was set up in Matigara by Canadian Jesuit brother Robert Mittelholtz. The only criterion for beneficiaries is that they are very poor and need help.
The hospice has a 360-bed capacity in four wards. In 2011, there were nearly 3,000 inpatients. Those patients who are able are involved in the daily upkeep of the hospital, tending the grounds and helping to cook meals.
In 2007, Jesu Ashram was declared an HIV/AIDS hospice following a steady increase in patients with HIV, from six in 2001 to more than 1200 by 2009. An HIV/AIDS ward was inaugurated in March 2010 with support from SOS India; it is called Gonzaga Sarai (sarai means “inn”).
Once weekly, Jesu Ashram runs an outpatient clinic where thousands have been treated over the years. In many cases of leprosy, the clinic helped fight the infection early on and avoided the deformities associated with later stages of the disease.
Some patients recover but cannot return home because they fear rejection due to their severe deformity – the outcome of long untreated leprosy. They receive a monthly allowance and are settled in nearby dwellings built by Jesu Ashram, where some are engaged in income-generating activities.
Jesu Ashram also offers a three-year course on nursing for girls from poor families who have completed their high school education. The students pay about 150 Indian rupees per month (three Canadian dollars), which covers half the cost of their boarding and lodging. Approximately ten young women are enrolled yearly.
Director: Fr Pramod Dabhi SJ
Visit the Darjeeling Jesuits’ website: http://www.darjeelingjesuits.org