Women In Need

On one of my afternoon walks, when I was very new to India, I saw a woman I will never forget. She walked towards me, head shaved, feet bare, lips cracked, skin burnt, eyes haunted, clutching a black woolen blanket around her naked body. I froze, completely stunned, as she passed me on that dusty road, she looked straight through me. I watched her walk away with a lump in my throat, my stomach in my chest. I looked around at the nearby paan wallas and chai stall customers, desperate for someone to help but everyone was busy attending to their business and no one noticed her. The woman in need, completely ignored, overlooked, invisible.  Helplessness and confusion consumed me, morphing into guilt at my inability to do anything. The next day, I looked for that young woman but I never saw her again.

That woman, clutching her blanket, has stuck in my mind since, she wanders around my thoughts reminding me of the extreme and unimaginable suffering in the world and my own helplessness and regrets.

Then, I met Leah and Usha. Two inspirational women who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have been abandoned, abused, ignored, neglected and stigmatised. 

Leah left England to work in India’s oldest leprosy colony, Dattapur, in 1995. This is where Leah met Usha, a young Indian woman who had been affected by leprosy since the age of ten. Usha recognised the early signs when Leah contracted leprosy herself and supported her throughout her recovery. During this time the friends realised they shared a common goal, to assist stigmatised women who had been cast out of society. Although leprosy is curable, lack of awareness means that those who are receiving treatment for the condition are often abandoned by their families and forced to live in horrendous conditions.

In the early days Usha and Leah, being trained in leprosy detection and treatment, started to visit the slums of Nagpur, their funding coming from their own personal savings, travelling on public transport. They risked danger, walking through these parts of Nagpur, and through their dedication, hundreds of abandoned women had access to essential medical care, food, shelter and counselling.

I recently accompanied Leah and Usha to Dattapur to visit the shelter they now run on the beautiful and tranquil grounds of the leprosy colony where they first met. The shelter, nestled in picturesque nature, gives women a place to relax, recover and rediscover joy in a safe environment, without fear of judgement. A place where they can be creative, learn meditation and receive therapy. 

It was such a privilege to meet the women living in the shelter, women who have suffered in ways many of us can not comprehend. Women who have survived every shade of horrific abuse, resulting in a high prevalence of HIV and profound mental illness. These women, embodying shakti (strength), have been repeatedly mistreated, due to no fault of their own. With compassion, care and the passage of time, the women start to smile again.

Thanks to the shelter, these women have been given the chance to regain their dignity and self-respect and where possible return to society with a continuous supply of medication and a new skill or business. This has been possible due to Leah and Usha’s relentless efforts and the charity founded by them called Women In Need.

Usha and Leah show us that we can make a difference, with compassion and determination, anything is possible. It’s impossible not to be inspired and motivated by their passionate belief that no one is a lost cause, the thousands of women they have empowered and the kindness they pour into the lives of Nagpur’s most vulnerable. 

Many thanks to Usha, Leah and the other women at Women In Need, you are all so inspiring and I look forward to spending more time with you all very soon!

Donate: justgiving.com/womeninneed/donate/

Follow Women In Need on Facebook: facebook.com/womenineed

Read more about Women In Need: Women-In-Need.co.uk/



  1. Lauren, how well and properly you communicated. Indian society is riddled with apathy, callousness and indifference towards its really needy, especially towards its womenfolk. Leah and Usha are great girls, who are meaningfully using their life for helping and enhancing the lives of those abandoned and shunned by the society. Its good you have written on this, this will create greater awareness for those looking for meaning in life. Many of our urbane are complaining of going through so called depression, which means the life is empty and soul is showing signs that it needs a fill in with some content to make this humanlife worthwhile.


    • Thank you so much, Rosy!
      I guess that when people see suffering often, they may become to some degree immune to it as a way to cope. Depression is a big issue around the world, I hope in time the stigma of depression will dissolve, sadly many people think that depression isn’t an illness but a weakness. We should all understand it is a medical condition that needs to be treated with compassion.
      I hope you are well dear!! xx


      • Yes, Lauren, depression is indeed a medical condition…i also feel it is a spiritual low, i don’t mean from religion perspective, but when one has gone far away from ones center, somewhere afar, got lost in unfulfilled desires and such things…body feels something amiss.

        As one saint has rightly put, “All your pain, worry, sorrow will someday apologize, and confess they were a great lie.”


  2. People want happiness. It’s a relief that the definition is different for all, otherwise it would have been chaos.
    For some it’s money, for some it’s fame, for some it’s family, friends and a game.
    Many find it in other people and for many it’s just living plain and simple.
    And then, there are people like Leah and Usha.
    Thank you for having the guts that many of us don’t.
    For doing what society (we) won’t.

    Thank you for sharing Lauren.


  3. Thank you for bringing attention to women in need. It’s truly heartbreaking. Thank God for people who have the ability and desire to help them. You have a kind, caring heart.


  4. A remarkable WIN for women around the world, when the least of them are lifted from the street and dire pain, and returned to dignity. I appreciate you for bringing this to your blog and demonstrating that where there is hope, there is also redemption.


  5. Thank you, Lauren, for sharing this important message to all of us. I admire your caring and courage. You have a compassionate and good, good heart. Love, Ellen xxoo


  6. I do appreciate your effort to approach information about these great ladies who are living a life of substance.
    Thanks dear Lauren


  7. These two women are a beautiful example of love and faith. Thanks for inspiring me!


  8. Thanks for an inspiring story of two women helping those in need. Sometimes others can best help those who are helping others.
    By writing about them, you have inspired others to do something about similar problems that exist everywhere – including the rich/developed countries.
    Some scenes India are, at times, something you would read in Charles Dickens novels and I hope that miserable conditions for the poor improve – smaller families is one of the keys to meeting basic needs.


  9. Hi Lauren,

    Here is some info about a charitable group I support in India, the members are all young and dynamic professionals who have put to use their education, financial and technical expertise to help the poor. Their website is http://www.milaap.org

    Milaap crowd-sources microloan funds from people through its website, milaap.org. Then they provide loans to pre-qualified individuals and small businesses through a network of trusted community partners who specialize in providing and managing microloans to these local communities.

    As the loans are repaid, the community partner repays Milaap and Milaap credits your account. Then you have the option of re-lending or withdrawing your money.
    There are thousands of India based groups that do charitable work.



  10. One despairs & then one learns about so many selfless people too.
    I have a friend of my father involved in Ekal Vidyalaya schools (self supporting village schools in remote areas with hours compatible with children who have to help families with their chores).
    Another 2 I came across through my sister were CanSupport in Delhi for patients of cancer with limited means, including children, & DEEP foundation whose work includes Henny Penny libraries in slum areas.
    All of them have websites/fb pages.
    So many admirable people out there.


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