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The Power of an Unlikely Friendship

Two women from two different continents and cultures who found each other and changed the course of thousands of lives.

One of the driving reasons the mission of Rising Star Outreach has been so successful is the deep friendship that formed between two very different women of vastly different cultures. Becky was All-American; Padma was Indian to her core. Padma was dedicated to political and social reform; Becky was a Mitt Romney Republican.  Becky was dedicated to the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Padma was a Hindu and just as dedicated to these beliefs and traditions. Still, their unity of purpose overrode their striking physical dissimilarities and life’s experiences.

Padma Venkataraman, is the daughter of a former president of India, Ramaswarmy Venkataraman. Her father was a close associate of Mohandas Gandhi, and as a young girl, Padma remembers meeting the great liberator of India. His great example inspired the path that she would take in life – serving the marginalized people of the world. Padma is a founding member of the Women’s India Association, an agency that has long led efforts to empower the women of the nation. During her years in Vienna, Austria, Padma was the permanent representative of the All IndiaWomen’s Conference to the United Nations. She put many things in place to assist the blind, handicapped, and differently abled persons in her country. In early 2008, she was honored by the International Leprosy Conference for her years of working with leprosy-affected families.
Padma is a soft-spoken, unassuming woman who rarely speaks of her background of influence and accomplishment. In a moment of true character, in a time of heightened terrorism, she was detained as she was leaving Britain. At first, she was vague about her reason for being in the country; she did not want to flaunt her influence. It was only reluctantly that Padma told the immigration officials that they could check with the person that had extended the invitation into the country for a palace visit – Queen Elizabeth II.
Becky Douglas, is the daughter of a middle-class family raised here in the United States with very conservative traditions. Becky is as rowdy as Padma is reserved. Her life is a marathon lived at sprint speed. She is bright, talented and very musical. She attended Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she also played with the Charlotte Symphony. A classical violinist, Becky has since played with the Atlanta Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta, Opera, Atlanta Ballet, and has given numerous solo recitals around the United States. She is the mother of ten children – seven natural-born, two adopted from Lithuania and one adopted from India. She is an astounding teacher and speaker and has let nothing stop her from serving her fellowmen and helping those in need. 
 
Everything changed in 2004 when a Tsunami hit the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India where the fledgling Rising Star Outreach was just taking shape. Hundreds of people escaped the waves by fleeing to vacant lots by Padma’s house. She helped organize emergency relief efforts that brought food, clean water and cooking oil to refugees. During this time, Rising Star Outreach was organized in a little rented house on East Coast Road in Chennai, India. Only 27 children were enrolled and boarding for needed food and shelter. Devastation was everywhere. Families were torn apart. Parents lost their children and children were orphaned in the storm. Becky was horrified when she saw the news reports. She was anxious to know how the children were doing and how the people she had grown to know and love in the colonies were doing – had they survived? She was able to reach Rising Star’s general manager at the time, Mr. Gopi S. All was well at the school and the boarding home. No flooding. Everyone was safe, but there was great need in the colonies. Especially in the fishing kuppams along the coast. Gopi went out into the colonies to make deliveries of food and supplies to those in need and at the same time, Padma was making a visit. He saw her meeting with the women’s self-help group and going over the ledgers of micro-loans made to colony residents. Gopi introduced himself and told Padma that he thought she might enjoy meeting the lady that founded Rising Star Outreach – Becky Douglas.
 
Becky recalls getting a phone call from Padma. Padma asked if Becky wanted to form a partnership with her. Becky describes this phone call as Rising Star’s first big miracle. On a practical level, Padma was in need of additional sources of funding for her micro-lending programs and to provide relief to the victims of the tsunami, while Rising Star Outreach had a serious need for someone who could help get this budding charity to the types of programs that would make a lasting impact on the lives of those living with leprosy. Over the last 15 years, this friendship has been tested, strengthened, and has grown deeper. Both women have witnessed countless miracles and always give the credit to the hand of a higher power that they have seen heal, help, and bless thousands in need. And today, they have worked together to uplift thousands more during this COVID-19 pandemic. Belief in miracles is not required to see the convergence – the incidental friendship of Becky Douglas and Padma Venkataraman –  as an extraordinary event, not to mention the courageous and compassionate service given by these two extraordinary women.

Joining Forces To Provide Ongoing Covid 19 Relief Efforts To Leprosy Colonies

On March 24, 2020, India went into a complete lockdown with only four hours notice. The leprosy colonies were immediately plunged into dire circumstances to obtain food and medicines. Rising Star Outreach began to receive frantic calls from various colonies begging us for help. People from the leprosy colonies said they did not fear the virus nearly as much as they feared starving to death. India is now one of the hotspots for the virus and areas of the country are still under mandatory lockdown (including the region where our main campus is located).
Since the lockdown began, Rising Star Outreach’s team has been working tirelessly to provide support in the form of food, medicines, and wound care kits to members of over 170 colonies in 9 states across India. Over 1/3 of these are colonies that we have previously never been able to work with. Thanks to our partners like APAL, LEPRA, UNICEF, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’ve been able to reach more people than ever before. Thus far, we have reached over 10,380 families — 52,320 individuals — with this relief effort, and the work is still ongoing. Our students are remaining at home with their families and we are preparing resources to allow them to maintain their education through remote learning as this pandemic continues.  Gratefully, to date we have not yet had a single case of COVID-19 in any of the colonies we work with or with any of our students or staff. This is a miracle to us.
We will continue to keep you updated on the situation. In the meantime, we just want to acknowledge that we could not have done this without our many partners and supporters, locally and abroad! Because of you, lives are literally being saved each day.  Please consider helping us during this time so that we can continue to provide these necessary services.
With thanks, the entire Rising Star Outreach family

Determined to See the Good as We Fight Back Against Coronavirus

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!

 

Gratefully,

Becky

9 Ways to Support Rising Star Outreach that Won’t Cost You a Penny!

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.

 

 

AmazonSmile

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! 

 

Smith’s/Kroger Rewards

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!

*click image to zoom in

 

Networking Connections

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 tawnafowler@risingstaroutreach.org if you have a connection you would like to share.

 

Facebook Fundraisers

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 tawnafowler@risingstaroutreach.org.

 

Talent Wanted

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 lexies@risingstaroutreach.org for more information!

 

Online Drive

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 tawnafowler@risingstaroutreach.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!

 

 

 

 

A Styrofoam Cooler that Changed the Lives of an Entire Family

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!

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info@risingstaroutreach.org

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CONTACT US

801.820.0466
info@risingstaroutreach.org

FAX
678.623.0702

OFFICE
3521 N. UNIVERSITY AVE, STE 250
PROVO, UT 84604

 

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