The Coronavirus continues to run rampant in India. The numbers have continued to go up dramatically even though the entire country has been in a complete lockdown. In spite of that, the government is lifting the shutdown in most areas of the country. However, in Tamilnadu—particularly in the area of Kanchipuram—because of the rapid rise of contagion, the shutdown has been extended until June 30.
The hospital system in India is overwhelmed and many people who are very sick are not able to obtain lifesaving treatment, consequently, the death toll is very high.
We are very relieved and grateful to report that, up to this point, we have not had a single case of COVID in any of the leprosy colonies that we serve. This is a huge blessing! We are, of course, praying that this continues.
The lockdown has come with its own challenges. Due to the limited allowed movement, it has been very difficult for people to obtain sufficient food or medicine. The economy has been particularly hard hit with more than 100 million people losing their jobs.
Once we learned of the starvation that the members of the colonies were facing, Rising Star Outreach sprang into action. To date, we have supplied basic food and medicine to 176 colonies spread over nine states of India! We have delivered this assistance with the help of a number of partners who have rallied to the cause. Some have provided us with free transportation, the assessment of need, communication, and the actual delivery of the life-saving packets.
Even our students have come together in many places to help us create these packets of food and medicine. It’s been really neat to see them rising to this challenge. It makes me happy to know that they want to do everything possible to help. They have learned their lessons of taking action and empowerment quite well! Altogether, we have reached close to 50,000 people!
We are preparing to give a second round of food to the colonies in both Tamilnadu and Bihar. Both areas have seen very high contagion rates and so are subject to a continuing lockdown.
We’ve been so gratified for the many people who have generously rallied to this cause! Without their tremendous support, none of this would have been possible.
Schools will likely continue to be shut down until the end of the year. For this reason, we are purchasing 75 tablets. We will give each colony where we have students from our school, access to one of these tablets, along with a hotspot, so that they can continue their studies online during the shutdown.
Our teachers have been very busy working with our students online, as well as preparing for the following school year which begins this month. Each teacher is also working to keep WhatsApp chat groups going with all their students so that we can stay connected to the needs of their families.
These are crazy times!! We are so grateful for all of our sponsors!! In spite of tremendous job losses here in the United States, we have been particularly blessed to have our sponsors hanging in there with us. It’s been remarkable!! Our heartfelt thanks goes out to each one of you!
We recognize that because of the current situation and adjustment to our new “normal” during the pandemic, donating money may not be an option like it once was. While monetary donations are definitely crucial to being able to carry out our work, there are lots of important ways that you can get involved to help carry this work forward! We have received messages from so many of you who are still eager to get involved and serve the leprosy affected, so we wanted to share a list of valuable ways that you can be involved with Rising Star Outreach’s mission.
This first one is easy! Go to smile.amazon.com and select Rising Star Outreach as your charity of choice and AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of the price of all your eligible purchases to our cause. We know online shopping has become a standard for many people, and now you can turn those purchases into a boost for your favorite nonprofit as well! You can help bring home and dignity to people affected by the stigma of leprosy just by shopping online. Click here for more information on how!
Do you shop at Smith’s or Kroger? Well, now you can grocery shop with a purpose! Smith’s will also donate 0.5% of every purchase you make with your Rewards Card. You can choose to have these donations given to Rising Star Outreach by using our NPO number: RE928. We have a step-by-step guide that will walk you through this process – it is quick and simple but will make a lasting impact on those we serve in India!
An important part of what makes RSO’s work possible and efficient are the partners that we work with – whether that be corporations, foundations, or other nonprofits, to name a few. But we need your help in making some of these connections. You can be of major assistance to RSO just by introducing us to who you know! These networking connections might include contacts at event venues, musicians, corporate heads, social media influencers, business owners with resources we could use in India or locally for events to cut costs, restaurants or food trucks, leaders of other NGO’s that work in India or who have unique business models that might compliment our work, and so forth. You may just be the link to a meaningful connection that we need to propel our work forward! Reach out to email@example.com if you have a connection you would like to share.
Nonprofits are always in need of funding to carry out their work, but not everyone has the means or ability to make a donation (or at least one that matches their enthusiasm for the work!) No problem! Do an online fundraiser on social media – make it fun and full of personal connections so that your friends and family feel drawn to the cause through you! We will be glad to help you explain and share what the money is going towards.
Do you have a birthday or anniversary coming up? A fun holiday that matters to you? Celebrate it with an online fundraiser! Invite your friends to donate to Rising Star Outreach in honor of your big day. What better way to celebrate than by using your day as a platform for good? Believe us when we say, fundraising has never been easier – all you have to do is click here to create your own Facebook fundraiser.
We always encourage fundraiser hosts to write a personalized message about why Rising Star Outreach is special to you and why you are asking for your friends’ support. You can add that message in the “Why are you raising money” section when you set up your fundraiser!
Host a Special Event
One of the most important ways we get our message out to the public is through people like you serving as ambassadors for the work. One way that you can do this is through hosting your own RSO event to share the message about our work. While observing COVID-19 safety guidelines, you can definitely host an event online as well as start brainstorming and planning an in-person event for a time when everyone is able to gather again!
Events can include dinners or brunches, speaking events, online concert fundraisers, and more. We have speakers living in locations across the country who are also available to attend your event (either online, or in person) depending on your location. There are lots of ways you can get creative with this – and we would love to talk with you about them. If you would be willing to host an RSO event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a skill or talent that you would be willing to share for a good cause? We are always excited about collaborating with creative minds! There are lots of creative ways you can use your talents to help propel our work forward.
We are currently looking for individuals who would be interested in creating a video or other downloadable resource for our online Rise to Wellness initiative. We are also interested in working with a musician who could write a “theme” song for the students that attend Rising Star Outreach’s Peery Matriculation School!
Are you good at making apps? Organizing and hosting events? Photography? Making displays? Or just have free time to share? We can use your gifts and talents to help this work. If you are interested in sharing any skill or talent, email email@example.com for more information!
Host an online drive where you request and collect specific items that Rising Star Outreach is in need of! These items may include bandages, feminine hygiene products, books, etc. Typically it is best if these drives are done using Amazon India so that the items can be sent straight to our campus. However, we ask that you always reach out to us before you begin so we can work together to determine what is needed in India at the time of your drive, and if another option might be more needed at that time. Shipping items to India is not something that we are able to do, currently, so online options are best. You can reach out to Tawna at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information about Rising Star Outreach current needs.
Follow & Share our Message Online
Follow us on all social media platforms and share the social media and blog posts that make an impression on you. Studies show that on average it takes someone being exposed to a cause seven times before they become involved! You can help us share our message so more people become aware of Rising Star Outreach and have the desire to join our mission.
Start the conversation with your friends about leprosy!
So many people are unaware that leprosy still even exists! If they are aware of the disease’s current existence, they may still not know to the extent of how severely it affects the lives of so many individuals and families. Enough conversations could create the awareness that would ultimately lead to change and the eradication of the disease and its stigma!
No matter how you decide to support Rising Star Outreach’s mission of empowerment and equality, your efforts will leave a lasting impression and be a part of the change we are working towards. We look forward to hearing from you!
Experience shared by Becky Douglas. On a recent phone call with Padma Venkataraman, she mentioned that she had a surprise photo for me. She told me I probably wouldn’t believe she had taken it this week. She sent the following photo, and she was right—I could hardly believe it.
Sixteen years ago, a terrible tsunami hit the Indian Ocean killing nearly 250,000 people across several countries. Rising Star Outreach jumped in immediately with tsunami relief. We replaced destroyed fishing boats and fishing nets for kuppams (fishing villages) which were the hardest hit segment of the society in India. In one kuppam alone, we replaced 87 fishing boats! With new boats and the replaced nets, the kuppams were able to return to their normal fishing business.
However, the fishing beds had changed as a result of the tsunami. Now the fishermen were being required to go further and further out to sea to find fish. This was particularly difficult for them because they had no coolers to keep the fish in, and in the hot Southern Indian sun, the fish would begin to spoil before they could reach the shore.
We worked directly with ten different kuppams along the Eastern coast of India. We suggested that they begin small micro-businesses to create a diversity of income. We created Women’s Self-help Groups in every village to administer these micro-loans. We made more than two thousand micro-loans to these groups. Many businesses were started, and as they began to flourish, this really helped the people.
However, after more than a year of doing this tsunami relief, we felt a need to return our entire focus to our main mission, which was to help lift the leprosy-affected. At that point, we had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars which we had raised for tsunami relief. Left in our tsunami fund was a little over $10,000.
When money is raised for a specific purpose, it has to be spent for that purpose. Therefore, in order to close out our tsunami account we needed to find a way to use that last $10,000. One very large fishing village with several thousand families asked Padma if there was any way we could provide them with coolers. They said, this would allow the fishermen to go further out into the sea to find the fish, and it would also make it possible for them to sell the fish further inland where they could get higher prices for their catch.
This seemed to be the perfect answer. We purchased 1,600 styrofoam coolers for about $6.50 each, which completely cleaned out our tsunami fund. Padma arranged a time for us to deliver the coolers to the Kuppam. On that day, we were greeted by more than a thousand people from the kuppam in their community center.
They had a beautiful program they had arranged for us including dances, dramas, singing and lots of awards. Every Women’s Self-help Group in the kuppam brought us the traditional Indian honorarium—a silk scarf. We were draped in multiple large leis of flowers reaching to our knees and multiple silk scarves, as there were more than a dozen Women’s Self-help Groups and each group took time to come and honor us in thanks for providing these coolers. The ceremony lasted for more than three hours!
Afterwards, we were hugged by hundreds and hundreds of the women in the kuppam as they tried to thank us for this gift. We were hugged and hugged for nearly another 45 minutes! It was pretty crazy—all this, for coolers worth $6.50! This level of gratitude for such simple gifts was almost surreal.
Fast forward sixteen years. Padma was in the fish market last week and saw this cooler with our logo on it. She asked the woman selling the fish where she had obtained the cooler. The woman’s face immediately lit into a smile and she told Padma that Padma herself had delivered it to her village sixteen years ago. It was still being used! It was still blessing the lives of that family!!!
Seeing this picture literally brought tears to my eyes. It brought back mental pictures of that village that had suffered so terribly during the tsunami, losing many of its fathers and sons to the deadly tsunami. Even children had been carried away by the destructive wave. Their village had been leveled, nearly every home completely destroyed. In the ensuing despair, and in the midst of complete, devastating destruction they had almost given up, but were encouraged by our coming. We brought hope and a means to support themselves.
I remembered the long and sweltering ceremony with the multiple flowers and silk scarves given in gratitude. I remembered the sweet hugs and tears of the women who thanked us so profusely for these simple gifts. And I was astounded that this little, cheap styrofoam cooler was still blessing that family.
To me, this was like a little message from God that great things are often the result of only small and simple things. I don’t believe I’ve ever spent $6.50 that has been more satisfying!
I have learned in life that everyone has to go through difficult trials. No one gets a pass to escape! It seems that during the most difficult of trials, sometimes the hardest thing to endure is not knowing—not knowing how long the trial will last; not knowing how it might end.
Those are the times that we have to dig deep within ourselves for conviction, for faith, and for strength.
I am reminded of a time early in our history that Rising Star Outreach was thrust into just such a situation. In order to bring foreign money into India you need to have an FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) license. Issued by the government of India, these are not easily obtained. There is a requirement that you must wait a minimum of three years after organizing your charity, before you can even apply for this license. This means that you have to rely strictly on local funding for three years.
This is particularly difficult for a charity dedicated to serving families affected by leprosy. Leprosy carries a dreadful stigma in India, with many people even believing that it is a curse of God, given because a person is deserving of suffering as retribution for mistakes they may have made. To try to find sufficient funding in this atmosphere of stigma is nearly impossible.
Fortunately, there is the ability to get permission from the government to bring in foreign funding during this 3-year wait period ONE TIME, for a specific purpose. At Rising Star Outreach, we were very fortunate to be able to obtain one of these one-time permissions to bring in some funds. We used these funds to buy some land and build a school, which doubled as a dormitory for the students at night. We had just enough money left over to provide food for the children until the three-year waiting time was over.
Costs rose faster than expected and it became quite difficult to provide for the students and teachers as we neared the end of required three-year waiting time. We applied for our FCRA license well before this period ended, fully expecting to receive the license.
However, our resources were being pushed to the limit as the awaited time approached. Rations for the students and staff were cut. In several instances we were fortunately provided some food by local residents. We felt like we were limping to the finish line. Then the unthinkable happened.
The deadline came and passed without hearing any word from the government. Each day became a trial of faith, just to get enough food to feed the students at the school along with the teachers and housemothers. Finally, we ran completely out of money and food.
Our director in India wrote to me to say that we needed to send the children home, or they would starve. But the catch was, if we did not have a functioning school, we could not receive our FCRA license.
This was one of the most desperate circumstances in my life, as I sat staring at my computer after receiving that letter, not knowing exactly how to reply. I had prayed relentlessly during these past few months for our FCRA license to come through, but weeks and weeks were going by with no response from the government.
As I sat in a stupor, without a clue as to the best path forward, the light began to fade from the room. I had been sitting there for more than an hour, and evening was now approaching. I knew that our director would be anxiously awaiting my response.
So many little lives hung in the balance of my decision! So many years of work to create a chance for these kids and to give them and their families a hope for a better future. I felt a 500-pound weight weighing down on my chest.
Slowly, I finally began to type. “Do not send the children home. Dig up worms if necessary, but don’t send the children home.” I stared at those words for what seemed like forever. My room was now almost completely dark. With a lump in my throat, I finally pushed send.
The next morning, I booked the first flight I could get to India. I packed my bags with packaged food, knowing that it wouldn’t even be enough for one day, as we had more than 150 students. But I felt driven to go and be with these children and leaders I loved so much.
When I arrived in India at 6:00 in the morning, after traveling a day and a half, I dropped into my bed to try to get at least a couple hours of sleep before heading out to our little school. I slept longer than expected, and at 8:00 AM I received a call telling me that I needed to get to the school immediately.
I quickly showered, dressed and ran out without breakfast. My car was waiting. During the two-hour drive to our campus, my heart was heavy, and I kept trying to focus on what I could possibly say to the children and their teachers. But the truth was, I didn’t have any idea what I could say.
When I arrived at the campus, I noticed that everyone was gathered in front of the school/dorm. The children seemed excited There was a banner on the wall. Due to the architecture of the school I could only make out the first three letters, “C-O-N. . . “As I ascended the steps to the main landing the children all started jumping up and down, clapping and laughing. Two children pulled at each of my hands to make me hurry my steps until I could see the entire sign. It read, “Congratulations on the FCRA!”.
I looked speechlessly at our director, who now was also smiling and clapping. “We got it?” I asked breathlessly. “Yes! Yes! Yes!!” everyone shouted. Tears were stinging my eyes. “But how . . .?” One of our older kids stepped forward and said, “Becky auntie, in India we have a great tradition of fasting taught to us by Mahatma Gandhi. We students decided to have a fast and ask God to give us the license. We got a call this morning from the government to inform us that the license had been granted and our formal license will soon arrive.” At this point, I was also laughing with the students through my tears.
Not every trial ends up with a happy ending, but just finding the strength to endure however long the trial may last, is what I seek. On days when it seems my current trial seems to be lasting forever, I can remind myself of the time we waited seemingly forever to get news that we had received an FCRA license. Every day during that time, we feared for the well-being of our students that we loved so dearly. The wait was agonizing. Not knowing the outcome was even more agonizing.
I have no idea how long the Covid-19 trial may last, but I’m guessing that most of us have an experience we can look back on that may help us muster the strength to go on through this trial. One thing I do know for sure, is that God is aware of little leprosy-affected children in a remote village in India who needed a license to continue their schooling and He is most certainly aware of each of us as we struggle, not only to endure, but to even find blessing in this journey. May you find strength in those memories and may peace and health be with each of you!
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