Faces in the Crowd – John’s Journey

Posted on February 16, 2017 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet


“ I am not angry at God or anyone else for being afflicted with leprosy.”

Meet John Ponnya.

John was born in Tirunelveli, India and he and his three brothers and three sisters were brought up on a farm. As the eldest of the siblings, it fell to him to work on the farm. Going to school was not an option. His father was a rice farmer and things were not easy. He became an important part of the farm operation as he learned how to drive at an early age.

Around the time he was thirty, he started experiencing health problems and inexplicably lost a finger. After several trips to the doctor, it was discovered that John had contracted leprosy, a dreaded disease. He was immediately abandoned and asked to leave the house. He was devastated and felt like an outcast, a feeling that he carries with him to this day.

Leprosy is a contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.

And so began a life of wandering, searching for a place to call home.  He moved to Kerala where he had no choice but to beg as those affected by leprosy were shunned, making employment all but impossible. His travels took him to Alappi, followed by Trivandrum and then Marthandam. Very often, he and others affected by leprosy ended up sleeping on railway platforms, catching the attention of local police. All the while, his leprosy progressed in severity making life all that more difficult.

It was in Nagercoil, where he shared a railway platform with many others, that a life changing event was about to unfold. One member of the group, a proclaimed leader of sorts, petitioned the government ( unsuccessfully ) for some kind of shelter for the group who simply could not find or afford a home. A local priest,  recognized their plight. He had a friend in the neighboring town of Kanyakumari. Her name was Sister Stella, a member of the Daughter’s of Mary at Stella Maris Convent, a Roman Catholic congregation committed to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged.

Sister Stella , the superior and Sister Archana Das were the driving forces behind this initiative.

The Sisters owned a parcel of land adjacent to their convent and offered the land as a place to start a small community for people with leprosy. Small thatched homes were constructed later with the hands of local youths and the Sisters themselves. These were replaced years later by concrete structures supplied by the government. John and his wife, Ayasha have lived there for the past twenty two years. They raised four children , two of whom  are deceased.

Ayasha operates a small convenience store which serves only the residents of the immediate community.

“ My dream is for the business to grow to a point where I don’t have to beg any more.”

Despite a life time of challenges, John is remarkably upbeat. He has a gleam in his eyes and laughs easily. His faith is unshakeable and he knows that some day his suffering will end and that the good Lord will be there to accept him when that time comes.

John did not choose leprosy. Leprosy chose John. He has done his best.


The leprosy community is badly in need of water taps. There are 60 homes and only 10 outdoor water taps to supply all the water required for cooking, cleaning and bathing. We are conducting a fundraising campaign to raise the money required to install 50 new taps. The taps are $100 each. To donate please go to:

Supporting The Daughters of Mary in India

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