Utopia for the Ostracized
How generations of homeless Burmese living with leprosy found community in a thriving, inclusive society in the remote mountains of their ethnically-torn country.
Photos by Brennan O'Connor
Isam Bala contracted leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, more than 40 years ago when he was just twelve. Isam and his wife, Na Law, were forced to leave their village on the China-Myanmar border when they were still teenagers. The couple spent the better part of four decades wandering from town to town, ostracized and unable to build a permanent life anywhere. It wasn’t until Isam was in his sixties that he discovered he could get free treatment at Naung Kan, a leprosy colony run by the Kengtung Catholic Diocese, about five miles from the city of Kengtung, in Myanmar.