At the recent World Forum on Hansen's Disease in Seoul, READ Nepal's Raj Kumar Shah took the opportunity to remind delegates that he has a very ambitious plan: to put a person affected by leprosy on top of Mt. Everest. Sitting in the audience was his partner in this venture, Brian Smith, a mountaineer and founder of the NGO, HAND (Helping Assist Nepal's Disabled).
Candidates for the Everest expedition have already been selected, and earlier this year they completed a 5,500-meter training climb up Yala Peak. Smith, who led the way, said that while he had plenty to teach them about mountaineering technique, he had nothing to teach them about "heart." "They really want to make it to the top," he said. "They're raring to go."
The ambitious endeavor also has an ambitious timetable - 2011 - but overriding that will be ensuring the chosen climbers are properly prepared for the challenge. There is too the question of funding, and efforts to gain financial backing are ongoing.
In his remarks, Shah also mentioned a sponsored radio program about leprosy that was responsible for saving a marriage. A man who was going to divorce his wife because she had leprosy changed his mind after listening to the broadcast, which dispelled the misconceptions he had about her disease.
Raj looks forward to the day when the media can report that a person affected by leprosy has conquered the world's highest peak, so dispelling many more notions about leprosy.