Brennan O’Connor
[gallery type="slideshow" ids="96081,96082,96083,96084,96085,96086,96087,96088,96089,96090,96091,96092"] The multi-ethnic residents of Naung Kan leprosy colony in eastern Shan State share surprisingly similar stories. After contracting the disease, many were forced to leave their mountain villages in the heartland of the Golden Triangle and wander the countryside on their own—in some cases for decades—until arriving at this colony run by Catholic nuns around 5 miles from Kengtung. After several visits, I became increasingly curious as to how these ethnic minority residents remained so strong after being ostracized from their communities so many years ago. Dramatic photographs that focused on their sometimes startling deformities would naturally evoke pity. But they deserved more than this. These people weren’t helpless victims; they were survivors. Despite their predicament, they were still fiercely independent and retained their pride. Everyone fended for themselves as much as they could manage. Most cooked their own meals and kept their private spaces clean. Some residents raised their own chickens. Others rose each day to work in the colony’s gardens. Burma still reports some 3,000 new leprosy cases annually and the capacity to detect cases in remote or conflict-affected regions remains problematic. The residents of Naung Kan may have lost their place in the world after contracting the disease but, here, they have found a new place to call home.  

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