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Gig night gives Josie open mic to share music and international needs

A law student who won an opportunity to travel to India with The Leprosy Mission is spreading news of disease, disability and discrimination to music lovers at a gig night in Manchester ...

A law student who won an opportunity to travel to India with The Leprosy Mission is spreading news of disease, disability and discrimination to music lovers at a gig night in Manchester.

Josie Hicklin, 21, is a regular at the Paper Night gig night where she now takes the mic to tell people that leprosy remains a huge problem in the developing world today and that, together, we can combat the stigma surrounding the disease.

Josie, who lives in Bolton and studies at the University of Salford, recently returned from a life-changing trip to India where she spent 10 days immersed in Indian culture, including visiting the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum in Uttar Pradesh.

But in addition to witnessing what the tourists see, Josie spent time with some of the world’s most marginalised people – people affected by leprosy. These people have not only battled disease and disability but are pushed to the fringes of society due to immense stigma still surrounding leprosy in India today.

Josie is no stranger to poverty having, aged 16, moved to Romania with her family to live and work in an orphanage house. She is also a support worker for Christians Against Poverty debt advice and counselling centre in Bolton. But it was the poverty and injustices witnessed in India that have inspired her to return to Asia after she has graduated to be a voice for those denied their basic human rights.

“I think there is a call upon every one of us to defend the rights of the oppressed,” she said.

“And now my eyes have seen, I feel the responsibility to do something.

“People at the gig nights are very responsive and want to know what’s going on in India. They don’t realise that leprosy still exists in the world today and are shocked when they discover it is destroying lives.

“Sometimes they donate money to The Leprosy Mission but as the nights have a strong student presence, there is not much money. But I believe it is imperative to tell people about leprosy and make them aware of the everyday human rights breaches people in India are facing.

“It’s important that we believe we can make the world a better place. It’s often not about grand and clever schemes but by standing up for justice in the midst of oppression.”

More than half of new leprosy cases detected in the world today – more than 100,000 a year – are diagnosed in India.

Sian Arulanantham, The Leprosy Mission’s Head of Programmes Coordination, said working in India presented a unique set of challenges. Adding to the challenges is an increasing viewpoint in the UK that India is now a wealthy country regardless of it remaining home to a third a world’s poor. More than 500 million people live on less than US$1.25 a day – the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty.

Sian said: “Young people like Josie who are advocating on behalf of those affected by the disease in India help drive a global awareness of the problem. This can only go to improve the lives of people currently living an extremely difficult existence.”

Pictured: (top) Josie Hicklin and Reeta, a student at one of the Leprosy Mission's Vocational Training Centres; (above) a leprosy-affected person in India

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