Written by Becky Douglas and originally appeared for Meridian Magazine
When my son Alex was fourteen, he traveled to India to spend his summer volunteering at Rising Star Outreach. This was in the very beginning of our service in India, before we had opened our own charity. At that point, we were supporting a toddler home named the Sangitha Home. It was quite a challenge –a home with ninety three-to-five-year olds!
The woman who ran this charity, Grace Moses, had chosen to concentrate on these ages because they had the most needs. The young babies were easily adopted to foreigners. The children older than five could go to school each day and so required less care. But very few people were serving the toddlers, because they required constant attention.
In those days it was very common to see children in very desperate straits on the streets of Chennai. One day, Gopi, our director, picked up a little girl about the age of two who looked as if she were dying. She was too weak to respond to him. Gopi somehow determined that her name was Rani. Gopi brought little Rani back to the Sangitha Toddler Home.
Rani was so emaciated from starvation that she threw up the rice that Gopi tried to feed her. He tried giving her bread, and again she vomited it back up. She had been without food for so long that her digestive system had shut down. Finally, my son, Alex suggested that they try giving her just the rice water—the water left over from boiling the rice. Alex had a medicine dropper in his suitcase which he ran to get. Holding her tenderly on his lap, Alex tried giving her just one drop of rice water at a time. It stayed down! He continued to feed her this way until the bowl of rice water was gone. Alex did this for a couple of days until finally Rani’s tummy reached a point where it could accept food.
Rani had apparently been pretty abused on the streets because she refused to let anyone come near her. She had taken a liking to Alex because he had so gently brought her back from the brink of death. So every day when Alex came to the children’s home Rani would toddle up to him and sit in his lap. He held her the whole time he was there. He would sing to her, talk to her, stroke her hair, try to play games with her. If anyone else came up to her, she would cringe and hide her head in Alex’s arms.
Those two little souls bonded so strongly! Every email home, Alex talked about Rani; today Rani smiled! Today Rani laughed! Today Rani let another child come up to join us! By the end of the summer they had become close friends.
Shortly after Alex arrived back home, one afternoon he was sitting at the kitchen table working on his homework when the phone rang. It was Gopi from India. Gopi was crying and seemed inconsolable, “Becky, our hearts are breaking in India today.” He went on to say that Rani apparently had a mother, because a woman had come to the home, announced that she was Rani’s mother and wanted to take her. She said that she had made a promise to her (Hindu) God that she would find her daughter and care for her. They tried to convince the mother to let Rani stay until she was completely healthy. They showed the mother how much progress Rani had made. But the mother was insistent. Gopi said sadly, “So she took Rani away.” He sounded heart-broken.
When I hung up the phone, Alex looked at me expectantly. He had been able to gather enough from my side of the conversation to realize the call was about Rani. “What is it, mom? What is it about Rani?” he asked anxiously. I explained as gently as I could.
Alex was terribly upset, “Mom, you have to get her back! She will die in that woman’s care! You had to see Rani when she came in. She was nearly dead.” I responded, “There are laws in India, Alex. I’m sorry, but I can’t keep a child from a mother who wants her.” Alex couldn’t believe it, “You mean, you’re just going to let her die?”
“My hands are tied, Alex. There’s nothing that I can do.” Alex had begun to cry. He was hurt and angry. He said, “Fine! I guess I just wasted my summer in India. All I did was care for Rani and now you’re going to let her die.” I could feel his pain and wished that I could help. I sent up a silent prayer for guidance. Into my mind came a story about Mother Teresa that I had read in a magazine, years before.
The story was about a woman in London who was a great fan of Mother Teresa’s. I’ll call her Ann. Ann had saved her money so that she could go to India and work with Mother Teresa but when she got to the Home for The Dying in Calcutta, Mother Teresa wasn’t there. ‘Where is she?” Ann asked the nuns. The nuns told Ann that Mother Teresa was over at the infant center. They gave Ann directions in how to get there, and Ann scurried over there. She had waited so long to meet this woman!
Spotting the home, Ann stepped quickly inside and scanned the room for Mother Teresa. She was stunned at the sight that greeted her. There were hundreds of babies on the floor, many of them crying. There were six Missionaries of Mercy in the room, doing what they could to meet the needs of all these babies.
Mother Teresa was at the back of the room. As she came towards the door, she would stop and point to a baby and say to the missionaries, “This baby right here,” or pointing to another baby, “this little baby right here.” As she did that, one of the missionaries would quickly come up, pick up the baby and take it to a rocking chair. There were half a dozen rocking chairs against the wall. The missionary would then begin to rock the baby and sing to it.
As Mother Teresa came to Ann, she herself, picked up a baby and handing it gently to Ann, said in almost a whisper “And this baby is for you.” Surprised, Ann accepted the baby as it was offered to her. It was a frail little baby boy. By the time she looked up, Mother Teresa was gone.
A bit disconcerted, Ann asked the workers what she was supposed to do with this baby? One motioned for her to come and sit in a rocking chair. When Ann sat down, in broken English the worker said, “Mother Teresa has a very strong belief that no child should ever leave this earth without having felt the warmth of an embrace and human love. As you can see, there are more than 200 babies here. There are only six of us. There’s no way we can love on each child. It’s physically impossible”.
Reverently, she continued, “But Mother Teresa has a gift. She comes every morning. She somehow knows which babies will die today. She points them out to us. Our job is to love on these babies until they die, so that they can leave this world in love. You need to rock that little boy, embrace him and share your love with him.”
A bit bewildered, Ann began to rock the baby. She hummed the Brahms lullaby. She said she could never forget, how as weak as the child was, how he still pressed his little face into her neck in response to her touch. She rocked the baby until he died that afternoon in her arms. Her life was transformed by this experience.
She wrote, “I have friends who would tell me that I wasted that day because the baby died anyway. But I would tell you that this was the holiest day of my life. I learned this day that no act of love is ever wasted.” Ann said that this was a turning point in her life.
As I finished recounting this story, I said to Alex, “I believe also, Alex, that no act of love is ever wasted. Yes, Rani may die, heaven forbid. But she spent several months in our home where she was loved and cherished. It may be all that she takes from this life with her. Your time was not wasted.”
We have not seen Rani since that day. To this day I still subconsciously look for her whenever I’m on the streets of Chennai. I am fervently hoping and praying that the mother stayed true to her word and took Rani home to care for her.
We have been incredibly blessed by God at Rising Star to have now seen hundreds of little lives change for the better through our schools and children’s homes. But we are not always successful with every child. We had two children die last year. One young girl fell into a river that was swollen from a cyclone that was off shore.
She had gone home from our school for the summer holiday and had gone down to the river to bathe. She was swept away by the swollen river. Another child caught Spinal Meningitis and died in the hospital. These events would be unbearable if I couldn’t remember the wise words of Ann, when she said that she had learned that no act of love is ever wasted. Those two girls had been cherished and loved by so many at Rising Star Outreach.
We cannot control how much life a person is granted. But we can control how much love we share with that person. In the end, I believe that the shared love is the thing that endures beyond this life. I have had to bury both a beautiful daughter and a precious granddaughter. Both deaths would have been unbearable if I could not be comforted in knowing that many days and years of love were shared together and that they will be shared again. Because of our Savior and His marvelous atonement, love is eternal. Each act of love that we share with another becomes an eternal legacy of our lives.
Sending gifts can be a fun and exciting way to connect with your sponsored child. However, sometimes it can be hard to know what to send, especially to someone who lives halfway around the world! To help out, we’ve come up with a list of ideas for students of all ages! This month, we’ve posted ideas for students in UKG – 2nd Standard (5-8 years old). Be on the look-out for future posts with ideas for older kids!
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Stuffed Animals
- Coloring Pads
- Dot-to-Dot Coloring
- Colored Pencils
- I Heart You (Book)
- Construction Paper
- Jumbo Coloring Pad
- Scratch Art – Safari Animals
- Living in India (Book)
- Mini Twistable Crayons
- World Atlas (Book)
You can use these specific gifts or use them as a starting point to come up with ideas of you own! If you have ideas, feel free to share below!
If you would like to send a gift to your sponsored child, you may send it to our office and we will forward it to India. Be sure to include their name and standard somewhere in the package. Please address the package to:
Rising Star Outreach
3305 N. University Ave, Ste 250
Provo, UT 84604
Writing a letter is an amazing opportunity to get to know the child you sponsor on a personal level and build a deeper connection with them. The children at Rising Star are unique and have blossoming personalities.
For example, Charles, 3rd standard, is an avid reader and has already read 15 books this year. Anbarasu, 12th standard, is very athletic and is not only a member of the sports club at school, but also finished running a marathon this year. Anjalai, 5th standard, is an energetic and outspoken girl that loves learning anything new. Murugan M., 7th standard, is a very cheerful young man who is happy when he is doing his best.
They love to hear from sponsors and receiving a letter makes them feel valued and loved. These connections will have lasting impacts on the life of both the child and sponsor, and writing to them is a great way to encourage them to pursue their goals.
However, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to writing letters. It can be hard to know exactly what to write to a child who lives a world away. To help, we’ve come up with a list of topics to ask your sponsored child about.
Family. For most Indians, family is considered the most important social unit. Ask your child about their family and friends, and send them a picture of your own family! They love to know all of your names and a few insights about each family member.
School. Ask them what they are learning and what they want to do in the future. What are their hopes and dream? Tell them why you feel learning is important or share a personal experience from your education.
Share an experience. What is most important to you? The children are curious and love to hear about your lives and experiences. Sharing an experience with them that will help them get to know you better and helps them learn important social and emotional skills.
The Weather. The average temperature in India is between 90-104 degree Fahrenheit, with the hottest time of the year typically being April. During the monsoon season, rainfall accounts for up to 80% of India’s annual rainfall. Ask the kids about it!
Food. Ask them what their favorite meal is and how to prepare it, then spend a night trying it out with your family. Send them a simple recipe to try as well!
Challenges. What challenges have you overcome? Share something with them that you’ve learned from your challenges and ask them what they’ve learned as well. These kinds of conversations can open up the door to get to know your child on a more personal level and can support them as they experience difficulties in their young lives.
Daily life. Tell them about your daily routine and activities and ask them about their daily lives. You mind find differences and similarities that you’ve never thought of before!
Current Events. At the beginning of each day, the students gather for a morning assembly. Part of that is spent relaying current events from India and around the world. Ask about the important current events occurring in their lives. What is happening in their community? Are their favorite sports team doing well? Tell them about a positive current event occurring in your community.
Holidays. Holidays in India are important events and usually include large celebrations with family and friends. Ask your child about their favorite holidays and what they like to do on those special days. Do they eat certain foods or wear special clothes? Tell them about your favorite holidays as well.
Express your love. These kids are unique, fun and vibrant individuals! Some of our children come from very difficult family or community circumstances, so your support matters in more ways than you may realize. Simply sharing that you care can make all the difference.
As you’re writing letters, keep in mind that lots of the children are learning English as a second language. Reading your letters and responding to them helps accelerate their English skills. Don’t get discouraged if takes time to form a relationship. Even small notes of encouragement are welcomed and valued!
EMAIL & SNAIL MAIL:
There are a few ways to get a letter to your child. You may email your note to email@example.com. Be sure to add their name and standard to the subject line. Or you may choose to send it to our office. Please add their name to the envelope and mail to:
Rising Star Outreach
3305 N. University Ave, Ste 250
Provo, UT 84604
This story first appeared for Meridian Magazine on January 7, 2018
It was only a pre-school, but we were unbelievably excited to actually be opening a school for the leprosy-affected in Southern India. We would start with a preschool—children only 3-5 years old. I knew that the leprosy colonies were spread miles and miles apart which meant that the children would have to stay overnight at the school. A boarding school for preschoolers—I had never heard of such a thing and wondered if parents would really be willing to leave their 3-5-year-old children there for months on end.
The small house we rented had a tiny bedroom for a headmaster and one other small bedroom. On the floor, if we put a mat that extended from wall to wall, we figured we could squeeze 27 children onto the mat, if they slept shoulder to shoulder. But would there be 27 toddlers whose families were willing to have them live away from home? I wasn’t sure. . .
The morning that we opened up registration we were completely unprepared for the onslaught of families and children wanting to enroll in the school. By noon, the places were all filled and already there were one hundred children on the waiting list.
There is apparently a grapevine amongst the beggars on the street. Somehow word had gotten out that somewhere in India a pre-school was opening that would admit children from the leprosy colonies. The response was unexpected and overwhelming.
The families and children continued to come. By the time we shut down registration that evening there were more than 200 children on the waiting list. The next day it began all over, but this day they began to arrive from all over India: Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore. Over the next few days they continued to pour in, with one man and his son even coming from New Delhi, which is clear across the country. By now we had quit numbering the waiting list.
Two days later I happened to be in a leprosy colony with our medical clinic. I was surprised to see a young five-year-old child sitting in the dirt crying forlornly. The people in the colony just seemed to walk past him as if he were not there. When I asked the Colony leader what was happening, he told me it was a very sad story. He said, “The boys’ father brought him from New Delhi to try to put him in the Rising Star Outreach pre-school but there was no room for him. The father didn’t have enough money to get his son home on the train to New Delhi, so he brought him here and asked us to look after him. The father has gone back to Delhi to beg and try to get enough money to come get his son.” The leader shook his head sadly and continued, “The problem is that we don’t have enough room or food for our even own children. No one is willing to take him. He’s just been sitting in the dirt crying for the last two days.”
I was aghast! A little kindergartener sitting abandoned in the dirt for two days—nothing to eat and no roof over his head, but people passing him by as if he didn’t exist? I ran to him and gathered him up in my arms. I knew there was no room for one more child on our sleeping mat, and also that there were hundreds of children ahead of him on the waiting list. But I also knew that I could not leave him in the dirt to die. “Don’t worry, we’ll find room for him at Rising Star,” I heard myself saying.
I brought little Arun back to the hostel. For the next two days, he never stopped crying. I held him in my arms while I rushed around trying to get things ready for the school to start. There were so many things to do! The children all had to be screened for leprosy. They had shown up with ringworm, scabies, lice, parasites—even hoof and mouth disease. But the worst was the scabies. The patches on the skin had to be scraped until the skin was rubbed off and the eggs exposed. It was painful and very traumatic for the children. When we’d say, “Ooh dear, I think this is scabies,” the children would immediately begin to plead pitifully, “No, no Auntie. Not scabies! Not scabies!” But there was no choice other than to treat all these things. With the children sleeping shoulder to shoulder, the chance of one infection being passed to the entire group was inevitable unless every case was treated.
Anytime I put Arun down for even a second he wailed and sobbed uncontrollably. The trauma of his perceived abandonment by his father had shaken him to the core. I was beginning to wonder if he was going to make it or not. Then, inexplicably on the third day he began to settle down a bit. He still spent most of his waking time on my lap, but as the week wore on, he gradually began to engage with the other children.
During the next few years, Parents’ Day was the hardest time for Arun. We had designated one Saturday each month as Parent’s Day. The parents would come from miles away to visit their children. They would come bearing sweet gifts of food (often spoiled from the heat of the journey) and inexpensive plastic toys or beads. This was a time of happy reunions, with lots of hugging and smiles.
Arun’s parents were obviously unable to travel across India for Parents’ Day. Feeling terribly left out, Arun would hide in the hostel and silently cry, and not emerge until all the parents had left that evening. Once we realized what was happening, we gave him the responsibility of being in charge of the lunch and getting everyone organized to be fed. This seemed to make him feel more a part of things, but truthfully my heart still ached for him when I’d see him on Parent’s Day, wistfully watching the other children with their parents.
Fast forward to this past April. I happened to be in India for the end-of-the-school-year Awards Ceremony. I was so thrilled to see that Arun received three awards for the twelfth grade: the best academic performer, the best sportsman, and the leadership award. My, how he had grown and changed! He was now confident and stood tall and erect. He was visibly proud as he walked forward to the stage three times to be honored. And I was so proud I could hardly stand it!!
He has accomplished so much! He will go on to college and I’m sure he will excel there as well. He has been taught that he is a child of God with inherent talents and abilities. He has much to offer the world! He has learned to dream and has worked hard to achieve his dreams. What a huge change from the little boy abandoned in the dirt with no hope!
These are the days that I say to myself, “In spite of all the challenges, there is nothing in the world I would rather be doing!”
It’s so easy for us to look at a little dirty beggar child and think that they are useless. We write them off mentally as worthless. But they are each one, the bearer of unique and wonderful gifts that only need opportunity to be developed. The same is true of the homeless, the drug addicts, the prostitutes.
I have a friend whose two sons work with people such as these in Las Vegas. They canvas the streets searching for the down and out, the discouraged, the hopeless. Convinced that every person has unfathomable divine potential, they patiently work with them, until the person begins to believe that they have inestimable eternal worth and unlimited potential. The transformation can take months, even years, but each one reclaimed is a beloved lost sheep of God’s.
When we see people who have been bruised by life and seem to have fallen, let’s reserve judgment. Instead, let us offer a hand of love and of fellowship; a hand of hope. Who’s got time to judge? There’s too much work to be done!
Note: In spite of the separation and great distance, Arun’s family is still connected to him. They have stayed in touch as much as possible and have even visited the campus a couple of times as their circumstances have allowed.
Two little boys were ushered by their mother into the smoke-filled room where we were waiting. She had just brought them from a leprosy colony. Stick thin and shy, they clung to her saree. The cramped, dark space was home to 25 children, all of whom were “untouchables” for one reason or another. Some were handicapped, some orphans, some were from leprosy colonies. One girl, Devi, was afflicted with progeria, the disease that makes you age rapidly; though only 13 years old, she looked as if she were in her thirties. Several of the children were unable to walk due to either birth deformities or polio.
Cooking was done inside the home over an open fire, and thus the smoke clogged the air and hung between us. I tried to approach the older of the two: Daniel. His mother told us that he had suffered from leprosy but had been cured. His arm was wrapped protectively around his younger brother, David. Trying to break the barrier and engage them, I reached into my purse and brought out two new children’s toothbrushes. I squatted down, so that I could look into their eyes and held the toothbrushes out to them with a smile.
At first neither moved. But finally, curiosity got the better of them and Daniel reached gingerly for the toothbrushes. They had never seen such a thing. I pulled another from my purse and showed them how to brush their teeth. They were fascinated.
The mother was destitute, and was in hiding from the boys’ father who was terribly abusive to both her and the boys. Fearing for their lives, she had fled with only the clothes on their backs. She didn’t want her children to have to beg in order to survive so she brought them to this home. She lingered over dinner with her two beloved boys, then kissed them both tenderly and slipped out the door. They found a little space between other sleeping children at bedtime. 25 children were sleeping in a room about seven feet by eight feet. With arms still wrapped around each other they fell to sleep with exhaustion.
The man running this home had promised the mother that he would send the boys to school, and for the first year things went well. But over time we became more and more concerned about the way children were being treated in this home. There were also many financial inconsistencies and with the unwillingness of the director to make changes, we were forced to end our association with him.
Before long David and Daniel found themselves kept out of school to help this man construct a new home. They forcibly labored long hours in the heat of Southern India. They lived on only rice and water. The two skinny boys got skinnier.
The next time I saw the boys I had learned about what was happening in this home and came to rescue the boys. There was a scene. The man running the home angrily told me he would never agree to send them to the new children’s school we had started. After threatening me, I left—without the boys.
A young mother in Arizona, Lynn Allred, had seen a picture of these two boys at a fireside I gave. Lynne told me that she was convinced that she was to help with these two boys. We all began to pray that the man running the original home would have his heart softened. A long time passed.
On a subsequent trip to India I was pleasantly surprised to enter the Rising Star Children’s Home and see Kala, the boys’ mother. She had come to work for Rising Star as a housemother. She told us that the man running the original home would not allow her boys to leave and even threatened to charge the mother with abandonment of the boys if she tried to remove them.
We all redoubled our prayers for the boys. Then wonder of wonders, on my next trip to India I was stunned to see both David and Daniel at Rising Star Outreach. They were even thinner than I had remembered them. They had been so starved that Daniel, although fourteen, still had not had his voice change. His body had not received enough nutrition to go through puberty and he still had the high-pitched voice of a small Indian child.
They were much older than our other children who were all pre-schoolers, but they were beloved by all the children. They acted almost as surrogate parents; they calmed crying children, played with all the kids and helped with schoolwork.
During all this time, Lynn had worked tirelessly to find a way to bring the two boys to America. At that time if they came on a student visa they had to attend a private school, as the State Department wasn’t willing to allow US taxpayers to foot the bill for their education. Miraculously, she was finally able to find a private school that was willing to accept them even though they were years behind in their studies and didn’t speak English. The school was a Christian school and required that the boys record their testimony of Jesus as part of their admission requirements.
On my next trip to India I excitedly told the boys about this remarkable opportunity. We were required to contact the father, who not only refused to cooperate, but threatened to kill them if they left India. He would relent only if the mother returned to live with him. Again, through the mercies of prayer, the father finally relented and agreed to let the boys go.
My dear friend Sharon Thompson was with me on this trip. We both grabbed an interpreter and sat down with the two boys to record their testimonies of Jesus. I listened while Daniel told his feelings about Jesus. I was surprised to learn that Kala was actually a member of the Church. She had not been allowed to attend Church by her husband, but she had carefully taught the boys about their loving Savior. Daniel’s testimony was simple and incredibly sweet. I had the interpreter read his testimony back to him and then asked, “Is this everything you’d like to say?” Daniel paused only for a moment before adding earnestly, “Please add that of all the boys in the world I feel that I am the most blessed.”
I could hardly believe my ears and tears involuntarily stung my eyes. This boy who owned only the clothes on his back, and had been afflicted with one of the most dreaded diseases in the world—and thus branded as untouchable; who had been forced to run from a violent father and been given to a cruel man to raise, who had been forced to work in the hot sun as an unpaid laborer instead of attending school, who had been separated from his loving mother, who had recently had his father threaten to kill him, and who had endured all kinds of unspeakable privation—still had his heart overflowing with gratitude. I thought wryly, “Well, with all that I’ve been blessed with, I must be the most ungrateful woman in the world!!”
All this time I thought I was going to help Daniel. In reality, I wasn’t lifting him as much as he was inspiring me! That night he taught me in an unforgettable way that gratitude has nothing to do with what we have, and absolutely everything to do with our hearts and our humility. Since that night, when I am feeling beset with problems and challenges that seem overwhelming and I find myself tempted to whine, I remember the skinny young boy, filled with gratitude who taught me to be thankful in all circumstances.
Note: The boys did come to study in America. They not only learned English but graduated from High School here. They went on to LDSBC and have both graduated from there. Daniel is now studying Hospitality at BYUH and David is studying business at BYU. Daniel is married to a wonderful young lady and they are the proud parents of a charmingly beautiful little girl, Saroja Rose.
Make a difference today!
You can be the one to make a difference in the lives of our students.
3521 N. UNIVERSITY AVE, STE 250
PROVO, UT 84604