I saw a remarkable documentary about Mother Teresa years ago. One of the scenes in the documentary showed her Missionaries of Mercy going into Beirut, Lebanon during a bombing siege, to rescue babies in an orphanage. When they arrived at the orphanage, the babies were in trauma from the bombing all around them—most of them contracted into tight balls, shaking, with their eyes rolled up into their heads. Upon arriving, Immediately the nuns began stroking them from the tops of their heads to their toes.
A few minutes later when the camera cut back to the babies the change was truly miraculous. They had relaxed and uncurled. They were smiling. It was such a stark contrast I could hardly believe my eyes. The workers in the orphanage also expressed disbelief at the miraculous change that had come to the children in a few short minutes.
That was my first introduction to the power of touch. I have seen this same power manifested over and over again in our work in India.
I remember Elder Stephen Covey suggesting in one of his books that as a parent, if you needed to correct a child, you should touch them very gently on the arm. Why? Because it is nearly impossible to yell at a child if you are touching them lightly. That simple touch seems to calm the raging beast within that we often struggle against when we’re exasperated with a child.
I have seen touch break down barriers, comfort nearly inconsolable grief, and help to control pain.
One hot, dusty day in the Valajabad leprosy colony this power was manifested to me, once again. We had brought a team of volunteers to help build a goat shed for the families in this colony who were wanting to raise goats as a colony micro-business.
The Valajabad Colony is one of our most challenging colonies. The main reason for this is that they don’t own the land their houses are on; they are basically squatters. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible for us to get services for them. Of greatest concern is the lack of water. There is only one well for the entire colony of 30 families. The well only typically has water two days a week. But even that is not a constant. There are times when there is no water at all for weeks on end.
Without water it is impossible to boil rice, the mainstay of all Indian diets. Food has to be eaten raw. The cooking pots cannot be cleaned, nor can the dishes be washed, clothes washed, or bodies washed. Consequently, food poisoning becomes a constant threat to health. Leprosy wounds cannot be cleaned out. Without water, life is nearly impossible.
The houses in this colony are nothing more than mud huts with either tin or straw roofs. Upon arriving in the colony this particular day, there was quite a commotion at one home. Upon approaching the home, I saw what the problem was. A large snake was slithering into a hole in the mud wall of the home. Several women were trying to pull it out with sticks, but with no fingers and in some cases, no hands, their task looked to be impossible.
One woman saw me and screamed “cobra!”. I have to confess, I have a crazy fear of snakes. Much as I wanted to rush forward to help (After all, I have two good hands with all ten fingers!), I had no idea what to do with a cobra should we get it out of the hole! I felt fear running up my back, causing a strange tingling and rendering me nearly paralyzed with fear. I frantically called out to our male volunteers to come to the rescue, however, they were already at the building site, and couldn’t hear me.
Only a few more seconds passed before the snake managed to slide inside the hole of the home completely. At that point the women shrugged and returned to their regular tasks. I have no idea what the owner of the home would do about having a cobra in her home!
Shaken, I ran to find one of the men in our group to see if they could help. They seemed to be a reticent as I was, to go into a darkened home to confront an unknown snake. (These homes have almost no light). Ultimately, everyone returned to the task of building the goat shed.
I was not feeling well myself that day, having awakened with a fever that morning. As the hours passed and the temperature climbed into the high nineties, I began to feel faint and so desperately started looking for shade. There are no trees in this colony, but they did have a tiny community center with a roof. Hoping no one would notice that I was slacking off, I slipped into the community shelter and sat down on an upturned bucket.
I soon realized that I was not alone. Across the small room was an elderly leprosy patient, squatting on the floor, with her arms cradling her stomach. She was rocking back and forth, wailing quietly in pain. I ran out to grab an interpreter. I learned that she had stomach cancer and had recently had surgery. Her stomach was swollen and distended grotesquely. The interpreter told me that this poor woman was in constant pain.
I immediately began digging in my purse to see if I by chance had any painkillers. I found a travel bottle of Bufferin. I was about to give her the Bufferin when I had a nagging thought that perhaps I should call our doctor before dispensing medicine! I called our doctor, explained the problem to him and asked if I could give her some aspirin. He responded with a resounding “NO! If you do that, you’ll kill her. She also has a bleeding ulcer!” Whew! Good thing I followed that small prompting! The thought of this poor woman fighting both stomach cancer and a bleeding ulcer gave me a deeper understanding of her distress. No wonder she was moaning and wailing!
Not knowing how else to comfort her, I also squatted down in the dirt next to her. I started to stroke her hair. Then I stroked her shoulders, sliding down her side to her feet. (It was easy to reach her entire leg because of her squatting position), all the while singing simple Primary songs that my father used to sing to me when I was sick. Gradually the wailing stopped. She leaned onto my shoulder.
Not knowing what else to do, I kept stroking and singing. She closed her eyes and actually smiled as she rested against me. She lightly laid her hand on top of mine, following the strokes.
At one point the colony leader came in and I asked him if she was getting help in the colony. “Oh no,’ he said. “she is an old lady and will die soon anyway.” Shocked at such a callous answer, I asked him how old she was. He replied that she was 54.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. I was also 54! All I could think of was how if I had stomach cancer, my husband would make sure I had access to the best doctors, the latest medicine. I would either have care in a state-of-the-art hospital or would be lovingly cared for in my home. Tears sprang into my eyes as I pondered the injustice of this situation. What is it about poverty that makes life so cheap??
Soon it was time to go. I bade my new little friend farewell. Did I mention that I also felt much better by this time? So the healing went both directions!
The next day we returned with the colony’s new goats, to be introduced into their newly constructed goat shed. When this woman came to see what was happening, she immediately came over to me when she spied me. She grabbed my hand in her own deformed hand and made motions for me to stroke her again.
Better than aspirin? I don’t know. But I know that there is power in loving touch. I have seen it work again and again.
In our families, we often have the opportunity to share that power with a child with a skinned knee, a discouraged teen or an overwhelmed partner. Kids that are hurting have an innate knowledge that they need someone to hug them. How many “owies” have we all healed with a kiss? Somehow as kids get older, we tend to touch them less and less, even though their problems seem to get tougher and tougher.
I think it should be just the opposite. There is nothing like appropriate touch—a hand on the shoulder, a high five, a hand squeeze or a hug to give a struggling kid or spouse renewed confidence, renewed importance, and a sense that they can rise to their challenges. I can’t help but think of how the Savior used touch so often to heal. Let us follow His loving example. Rather than diminishing touch as our children grow, let’s increase it to give them the power to handle their own increasing challenges. It’s free and it takes almost no time. Yet its rewards are amazing!
January 27, 2019 is World Leprosy Day, a day of remembrance and awareness that I suspect will go largely unnoticed by so many throughout the world.
Most people tell us that they are surprised to find out that leprosy still exists today. Typically, the first questions we find ourselves answering are:
Is leprosy treatable?
How contagious is it?
When people learn that leprosy is actually curable and incredibly difficult to spread/contract, more questions emerge. Why does it still exist? Why are people shunned and cast out of society and into colonies? Did you know the term “leper” is actually extremely offensive?
Much of the world does not know that hundreds of thousands are diagnosed and treated for leprosy every year. Many more are left untreated, hiding in fear and shame because of the stigma and discrimination that oppresses the leprosy-affected and their families. So many in the world don’t know there’s a cure. Or that even once a patient has been cured, physical deformities, amputations, and the care of painful wounds continue to be a part of daily life.
Rising Star Outreach exists to help those affected by leprosy to become healthy, educated, and self-sufficient within their communities. By far, one of our biggest challenges is the stigma attached to this disease. One of our main goals is to educate the public and gain global support to overcome the discrimination that forces so many generations to live in such pain.
So what can you do to help eliminate this ancient disease and the stigmatization that comes with it?
3 WAYS TO GET INVOLVED FOR WORLD LEPROSY DAY
1. TELL YOUR FRIENDS
One of the most impactful ways you can educate your friends about our work is to share our videos. These videos are powerful and compelling and are a great introduction to understanding our mission and learning about these wonderful people.
While you’re on social media, post your thoughts, images, or a video sharing your feelings about the fight against leprosy and social injustice. Share this post, follow our accounts, and make your voice heard.
Use our hashtags to spread the word:
2. SUPPORT THE CAUSE
We are proud to say that 100% of your donations go to our programs. We don’t give handouts. We create opportunities for those in the colonies to become self-sufficient. We offer micro-loans to create jobs, perpetual education grants to educate a child, and wound care training and supplies for patients.
On our website you’ll find many meaningful and impactful ways to get involved. Consider the possibility of Sponsoring A Child, make a donation, or get ideas to host a fundraiser on our behalf.
3. STOP THE STIGMA
Education is stigma’s greatest opponent. Simply teaching your friends and family (and encouraging them to do the same) about the history and true cause of leprosy is a start. Let your friends know that the term “leper” is as offensive as the “n” word in America and introduce them to more appropriate terms.
“Person affected by leprosy” or “leprosy-affected” are both terms that appropriately focus on the humanity of the individual and are not inferring that they are their disease.
LEARN MORE ABOUT LEPROSY
WHAT IS LEPROSY?
Leprosy is an infection that is the result of long-term exposure to the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis.
Depending on the length of time a patient has gone untreated, the following symptoms may develop:
- White or pale patches on the skin
- Loss of sensation in the affected areas
- Nodules or lumps in the skin located on the face and/or ears
- Ulcers located on the soles of the feet
- Loss of fingers or toes
- Nasal depression
- Paralysis or severe weakness in the muscles of the foot (foot-drop)
- Claw fingers and toes
- Loss of eyelashes
- Inability to blink
The cause of leprosy was discovered in 1873 by a Norwegian scientist named G.H Armauer Hansen. Until that time, most experts on the subject considered leprosy to be a hereditary disease. However, Hansen suspected its cause to be a specific, contagious agent and after prolonged studies, he discovered a foreign bacterium not found in uninfected skin cells. These bacterium were found to be the cause of leprosy, now known as Hansen’s Disease.
IS IT CURABLE?
Yes. After Hansen’s discovery, it took doctors and scientists over 70 years to develop a cure for leprosy.
Leprosy is curable with a treatment known as multi-drug therapy (MDT). Treatment can last from six to twelve months, although a patient is considered non-contagious after just 1 to 3 months of treatment. These treatments are provided free of charge to all endemic countries by the World Health Organization.
If the patient has developed deformities before treatment was started, those deformities can be corrected only by surgery. If the treatment begins before deformities develop, the condition can be completely cured without leaving any visible evidence on the body.
CAN I CONTRACT LEPROSY?
Not likely. A genetic component of the disease means that 95% of the general population is naturally immune to leprosy. Those 5% who are susceptible must be in continuous and constant contact with a leprosy patient to contract the disease.
WHY IS THERE SUCH A STIGMA AGAINST THOSE WITH LEPROSY?
Leprosy is an ancient disease that has been feared and misunderstood for thousands of years. Skeletal remains from the second millennium BC, discovered in 2009, represent the oldest documented evidence for leprosy
Nearly all of the ancient world predominantly believed that people infected with the disease were unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt. It was considered a punishment from God for sin, a result of promiscuous behavior, or a curse on your family because of past wrongdoings.
Besides considering an infected person to be evil, most believed that leprosy was extremely contagious and – upon discovery – a person with the disease was immediately cast out of the home and community (if not beaten and killed). For a person living with leprosy in India, they were considered the most lowly of all creatures and were deemed “untouchable”. Even their shadow was considered vile and unholy and a person could be flogged for letting their shadow cross a “clean” person’s path.
In the late 1880s, doctors believed that contracting leprosy was hereditary. This widely accepted theory led to isolating those infected and segregating them by gender to prevent reproduction and further spread of the disease.
Even with modern medical treatments and education efforts, the stigma attached to a person with leprosy continues to be a serious problem in many developing countries – most especially those with large numbers of impoverished, marginalized citizens and communities. Many people in the early stages of leprosy actually avoid getting seen by a doctor. Sometimes it’s because the hospital won’t admit them, or they’ll be ridiculed and treated horribly there. Quite often, though, it’s because a diagnosis of leprosy might mean losing their job, their family, and their place in society.
Despite so much suffering, there is hope. In the communities where we work, we’re seeing education and life-skills blooming. We’re seeing small businesses take root and enjoy some success. Families are being strengthened. Youth are attending school, graduating, and even continuing on to college. We’re seeing the men, women, and children who used to beg on the streets becoming artists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.
We are seeing entire colonies lift themselves out of the darkness.
There is still so much work to do. Thank you, to our supporters, for all the ways you continue to get involved.
Photo credit: Jeff & Allison Tueller, Vagabond Original
Rising Star Outreach’s Founder and President, Becky Douglas, was recently featured on BYU-Idaho radio.
In her interview with Brandon Isle, Becky’s message of hope and empowerment inspires us all to be a force for good.
One of our previous volunteers, Jared Nygren, recently took to the web to share about his experience in India meeting with one of our dear friends, Jayaraj. He shares how Jayraj taught him about real joy. Jared’s experience reminds us all that joy is possible and hope is rising – in large part due to the attitudes we choose to employ as we face what stands before us. We’re grateful for Jayaraj and Jared’s examples. Give this a listen, and then don’t forget to donate so we can continue to help Jayaraj and his colony, as well as others like him!
I sat next to a reporter at an exclusive luncheon in New York City put on by Traditional Homes Magazine. This was their annual event to honor “Five Classic Women”. Each year the Magazine had its readers send in nominations for that year’s Classic Women award. More than a thousand nominations were sent in each year, from which five women were eventually picked.
The reporter turned to me and said despondently, “I hate this luncheon. It always makes me feel like I haven’t accomplished very much. The women being honored are always proactive in creating change in the world and in making life better for so many people. I don’t do anything except write a column for a magazine.”
After living in misery for more than a year, one day she suddenly decided that she actually had a choice. She didn’t have to live in absolute misery this way. She could decide not to wake up any more. And so, she began to plan her own suicide. She researched drugs that would work best and purchased some through mail order.
She mentioned that she was a bit anal about things being orderly. She definitely wanted her house to be clean when her body was discovered. She had carefully planned this suicide so that her body would be discovered by a housekeeper coming three hours after she died. She didn’t want to be sitting around decomposing in a house and not have anyone find her.
Once the plans were made and the date was on her calendar, she immediately went into a frenzy of cleaning. She meticulously cleaned out every drawer and cabinet. She organized all her papers. All bills were paid and her desk cleaned off. She emptied every trash in the house and even waited until the day after her weekly trash pickup so that there wouldn’t be trash cans left at the bottom of her driveway.
When the day finally arrived, she unplugged her computer and sat down at the kitchen table with the glass of water and the pills of poison in front of her. Everything was clean and orderly. She was ready and felt okay with her decision, although she couldn’t help the tears that were spilling down her face. Just as she was about to swallow the pills she heard the mail truck pull up and stop at the bottom of her driveway. Dang! She didn’t want to have mail left in her mailbox! Putting the deadly pills down on the table, she went outside to bring in the mail.
When she retrieved the mail, the Traditional Homes Magazine was on top. She noticed that it was the annual issue where the Classic Women were announced. Her curiosity got the better of her and as she walked back up the driveway she flipped open the magazine to see who had won this year. She happened to open to the page with my picture and a four-paragraph write up, which she read as she walked back up the driveway.
She only made it halfway up the driveway. The story of my daughter’s suicide caught her in her gut. She couldn’t stop reading. She stopped halfway up the driveway and fell sobbing to her knees. Clutching the magazine to her breast, she stumbled to her feet and made her way into the house, still sobbing. Through her tears she plugged in the computer which had been shut off and looked up Rising Star Outreach.
She wrote that when the page came up, she hesitantly clicked on the Sponsor a Child page. There she found a little girl with the same birthday as her daughter—a beautiful little child from a leprosy colony in India with big downturned brown eyes and a shy smile. Her heart was captured.
This woman concluded her email to me with the words that she had decided to live in order to sponsor this child through school. “I have trashed the pills. I have a reason to go on. I will do this in my daughter’s name.” I concluded my story to the reporter, “So your four paragraphs saved a woman’s life and gave her the will to go on.”
As I finished my story, the reporter’s eyes, which had widened at the beginning of the story, were now misty eyed and reddened. I told her gently that I had twenty of these stories in a folder on my computer. Would she like me to send them to her? “I can’t believe it,” she whispered in a voice that was barely audible.
“Yes,” I said slowly. “I think you’ll find all these stories touching. Each one was written by a mother or a father who had lost a daughter or a son to suicide. These are the kinds of emails I get every time my story is told—even if it’s only in four measly paragraphs. When you write your stories, you have no idea how many people are touched and how their lives are affected. Please realize that what you do is important. You may never be honored as a Classic Woman, but (I smiled) I don’t believe that God measures success the same way we do here in the world. The truth is that He is able to make great things come of the small things that we each do. So, don’t sell yourself short!”
When I got home from the luncheon, I opened my “responses” folder under the P.R. tab of my email account. I forwarded twenty-two emails to this reporter. Her response back to me a few days later was beautiful. I thought of how she never would have known what had come about because of her work if she had not just happened to be seated next to me that day. She could have lived her whole life and been oblivious of the good that she had done.
Oh, if we all could just happen to sit next to someone who could show us how a kind word or a thoughtful gesture we had made almost without thinking had made a significant difference in someone else’s life! We all have the power to influence others and give encouragement and healing. What we don’t always have, is the knowledge of how that word or action made a difference to someone struggling within. Thoreau wrote that all men live their lives in quiet desperation. Sometimes a mere four paragraphs or a simple gesture can bring healing into another aching heart.
We plant the seeds of kindness with the faith that God will bring the harvest. In our case, we may not ever know what the harvest was until we stand on the other side of the veil and see that no act of love was ever wasted. Four measly paragraphs, seemingly unimportant, saved a woman’s life and gave her a reason to live. The kindnesses that you render may have equal impact as God uses them to lift His children. This is something I believe with all my heart.
Make a difference today!
You can be the one to make a difference in the lives of our students.
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