This past Friday evening, March 11, there was an event of celebration sponsored by Rising Star Outreach, held at the Atlanta Athletic Club. More than 125 people gathered to participate in the evening event, Atlanta Comes Together.
After refreshments attendees were treated to an absolutely beautiful dance program performed by the Bharathakala Natya Academy. Following the dancers Ms. Becky Douglas gave a presentation on the remarkable growth of Rising Star Outreach.
|Bharathakala Natya Academy dancers, instructor, with Becky Douglass|
It was an evening of contrasts! In her PowerPoint presentation Becky initially showed the small rented house in Chennai where their first school started. It had one bedroom, where 27 children from the leprosy colonies slept shoulder to shoulder, crowded together on one mat. Today Rising Star has a beautiful 16-acre campus with English-medium schools that serve UKG through 10thStandards, with 267 children. The secondary school is adding 11th and 12th standards next year, along with an additional 60 students. So the amazing expansion continues!
The medical program has had equally surprising growth. Initially Becky and her friends would simply use their pocketknives to dig out the infected wounds of the patients. This was done in the dirt with no sterile facilities. But now Rising Star has a series of mobile medical clinics staffed with qualified doctors and nurses that provide medical services to 54 leprosy colonies. Last year alone 13,500 medical treatments were provided, along with necessary medicines. Surgeries are provided free by the Sri Ramachandra hospital, which has partnered with Rising Star.
The colonies themselves have been helped through Rising Star’s Colony Development Program. Many hundreds of small businesses have been started so that the patients can support their families with dignity instead of begging on the streets. Not only does this bring in needed money to the families, but more importantly, it provides an increase in self-esteem as the patients become productive members of society.
|(left to right) Duane and Lori Tippetts with Becky and John Douglas|
Most surprising of all though was the presentation of how the program impacts individual lives. One young girl, Jennifer, had suffered from leprosy as a baby. She was provided the necessary medicines and cured. Today she is an excellent student at Rising Star with a dream of going into medicine so that she can help others. She hopes to win one of the proffered medical scholarships from Sri Ramachandra.
Another child, Arun, was taken by his father and left in a leprosy colony after being informed that there were no more spaces in the Rising Star Schools. Arun’s father had brought him to Chennai all the way from New Delhi when he heard that Rising Star was starting a school for children of the leprosy-affected. But the spaces were all filled up when they arrived. Arun’s father did not have enough money to get his son back to New Delhi, so he returned himself, determined to earn the money and come back for his son as quickly as possible. Little Arun didn’t understand all of this and felt that he had been abandoned in a strange place. When Becky came to the colony with the medical clinic two days later, she found him sitting in the dirt and crying.
Space was made for Arun at the school. Five weeks ago, Becky returned to the school and was happy to learn that the school was having their awards day. How pleased she was to see Arun winning three awards: for academic excellence, for sports excellence and for leadership. What a change from the little abandoned child!
|Sally Read and Becky Douglass|
Becky met David and Daniel 15 years ago. They had just been brought to a children’s home from a leprosy colony. Daniel had suffered from leprosy but had been cured. Becky gave them the first toothbrushes they had ever owned. Now, 15 years later, David and Daniel are in college. David is studying in business school and Daniel is studying accounting. What a change! Their lives will be vastly different because they were impacted by Rising Star. But Becky explained it even goes beyond that. They will eventually marry and have children themselves. In fact, Daniel has married and has a beautiful daughter. Their children’s lives will also be vastly different because of Rising Star’s influence. And their children’s children . . .
Speaking of children, a beautiful thing happened Friday night. Along with her mother, one of the youngest dancers approached Ms. Douglas after the program. She told of her desire more than a year ago to begin saving money so that she could help underprivileged children. She had been given jobs to do around the house. She carefully guarded her growing funds. But Friday night her heart had been touched and she said she now knew where she wanted to donate her funds—she wanted all of them to go to the children at Rising Star!
|Becky Douglas with Bharathakala Natya Academy Instructor and Dancers, along with one of our newest donors.|
Jeri Colton spoke of the sponsorship Program that facilitates families in America to help fund and sponsor children at the Rising Star campus. She gave many examples of sweet experiences she and her friends have had as sponsors of children.
Christine Cronquist spoke about the opportunities provided by Rising Star to go to India as a volunteer and to work directly with the patients and their families. The volunteers also help tutor the children–which may explain their rising to the top on the national exams!
Nearly everyone in the room had participated in the Rising Star story in one way or another. The charity has united people across the globe in working together to create meaningful change in India.
|The Rising Star Outreach Anchor of Hope Award|
Four people in particular were given special honor Friday night. Del and Marci Tanner were awarded the Rising Star Foundation of Hope Award. Del had served for ten years as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Rising Star, and Marci had served as a volunteer overseeing the Sponsorship Program. They had done this as volunteers, spending countless hours because of their passion for this work.
|Hugh and Ellen Morton|
Hugh and Ellen Morton were also honored with the same award. They had read an article about the charity’s work in the Atlanta Constitution-Journal and consequently come forward with an offer to fund the medical program. They worked together with Dr. Mani Balu and Dr. Parasarathy (Pro-Chancellor of Sri Ramachandra Medical Colleges and Hospitals) to create the Rising Star Medical Program that today has provided tens of thousands of medical treatments to the leprosy-affected.
Rising Star Outreach now serves 29,000 people affected by leprosy in 54 different colonies. As they continue to grow, many more of these people who have been forgotten and pushed aside can become good and productive citizens of India living lives of meaning and happiness.
All Photo Credits go to Penny Duncan at http://www.pennypix.net/
This article is printed, with permission from Becky Douglass @BeckyBDouglas