In India, the number one way most families get basic groceries and supplies is by making a daily trip to the nearest village market instead of a grocery store. That custom has been interrupted by the Coronavirus as it continues to limit accessibility to food and other vital supplies. The Indian government has put a lockdown order in place, keeping everyone from leaving their homes. Many people take home and live on daily wages so while they are unable to work, they aren’t earning their day-to-day income. As you can imagine, this situation has made feeding their families increasingly difficult for the people in India. In an effort to help, the government has collected food from stores and markets to then ration and deliver to families so they don’t have to leave their homes.
However, the individuals living in leprosy colonies can often end up on the bottom of those delivery lists. This means they face being last to receive whatever little food is left, or worse, there won’t be any food left at all and they will go hungry.
The leaders of Rising Star Outreach of India know that people affected by leprosy are all too often forgotten, so instead of idly waiting to watch history repeat itself, they decided to act, and act they did. Determined to lift the community through an additional trial, leaders put a plan into place to engage local resources and partner with government agencies to make sure people in the leprosy colonies receive food and medical supplies that will see them through the lockdown order.
Mrs. Padma Venkataraman, Rising Star Outreach of India Board Chairman, said the following about their planning meeting. “This afternoon’s session was full of positive energy…God be with us to make this dream come true and we will be able to feed so many people at this hour of great challenge.”
Relief packages were assembled and include items such as rice, dahl, wheat flour, lentil, cooking oil, salt, chili powder, masala, soap, and other essential supplies. These packages are expected to feed families for 1.5 to 2 weeks. These relief packages are being safely delivered to the homes of those in 41 Tamil Nadu colonies and 21 Bihar colonies. In the first phase of support, relief packages are expected to be in the hands of thousands of families, including those of our students.
Doctors have had to limit physical contact while observing social distancing and curfew. To ensure leprosy-affected patients are still receiving the treatment they need, wound-care kits and medications are also being safely distributed. Attached to each kit is a note from our National Medical Director with her personal phone number and instructions to call her with any questions, concerns, or needs.
A Rising Star Outreach of India employee made the comment that while it is still a time of uncertainty, the Rising Star Outreach of India team is continuing to care for the individuals and families that need support and are “giving them the mental courage” to press on.
We are blown away by the swift response of our Rising Star Outreach of India team! This was all made possible through their efforts and care for the people they devote their time to. The love they have for the leprosy-affected is profound and moves them to act on their belief that all life is equal and everyone deserves to live healthy, productive lives.
It was nineteen years ago when our founder, Becky Douglas, went to India in search of hope. It was there that she found a large community of people searching for that very same thing. Soon after her return home, she and four other humble but eager women founded Rising Star Outreach around her kitchen table to form Rising Star Outreach. That small gathering of friends was the initial drop that has since resulted in an incredible tidal wave of change. On February 20, 2020, Rising Star Outreach hosted another important gathering of friends, our first-ever Gala to celebrate giving and to honor our great supporters, the Marriott family. That night, Becky and Sharon Thompson, one of the founding women, had the opportunity to sit in a room filled with generous and equally eager people who believed in a vision they had years ago.
It was a beautiful evening filled with bold gestures and commitments to change lives. There was a strong spirit of unity as over 500 people joined together for a single cause. It was breathtaking to see the room filled with leaders from business, government, religion, and society come together to focus their attention on serving the “untouchables” – the leprosy affected – and through that showing their knowledge and belief that those friends are not untouchable, rather that we are all equal.
So many wonderful items and services were donated by members of our community who felt inspired to donate their skills and resources. Our guests generously bid on those items before moving into the main hall for dinner. The silent auction room was buzzing with excitement as guests placed their bids on their favorite items and bonded with each other over the act of giving.
After connecting with each other over a lovely meal, we had the pleasure of presenting the Rising Star Outreach Legacy of Giving Award to members of both sides of the Marriott family. We were honored to have representatives from these families in attendance, so that we could celebrate with them this powerful partnership and their legacy of giving. We were then privileged to hear from Dick Marriott regarding this shared cause and the caring values that united us all. His words were powerful and his message was inspiring. We were all left with an even greater desire to give and help others. We are continually grateful for the Marriott family’s brilliant example of selflessness and service.
Continued support from the Marriott Family has been empowering. The vision goes on and is largely due to the confidence and hope the Marriott family has had in our organization.
During the evening, we were dazzled by Tony & Emmy Award Winner, Kristin Chenoweth, and the Gentlemen Trio, GENTRI, who focused their talent on touching and inspiring hearts. Their words and music connected us all as we remembered the purpose of the evening. They also charmed us with their wit and humor and brought another level of joy to the evening as we laughed together.
Talent spilled over into our live auction and paddle raise when the genius auctioneer, Chuck Dukas, took his place on stage. The energy in the room crescendoed as paddles were raised high into the air, each one symbolizing a pledge to make a real change in the life of someone in India. Each pledge was paid in a currency not of money, alone, but hope as well.
We were already blown away by the generosity of all in attendance, when we were overcome to learn that someone in the audience had felt so moved by the messages and spirit that evening that they pledged an additional $1 million to support vaccinations and health in India. Our wish is that everyone will experience the joy that all those present felt when we realized that this one night would change countless lives of the people we love and serve in India.
The impact of that one night will be remembered forever by the people that were present but more so by the people who weren’t – the people whose families will benefit for generations.
Over $2 million was raised, most of which was raised in a matter of just a few hours. These funds will help cover the cost of vaccinations, medical treatments, teacher salaries, microloans for entrepreneurs, a new school campus and programs in Bihar, and other wonderful resources that will empower those who are affected by leprosy to rise above stigma and live healthy, productive lives.
Becky shared, “I’m still a little breathless every time I think of the gala! It almost feels surreal to me. I don’t think any of us in our very wildest dreams ever could have predicted that outcome.”
At Rising Star Outreach, we believe that there is a special power in the work that we do and that we are stronger together. However, we are still in awe of the power of that strength.
Thank you to everyone who has believed in us from the beginning. Thank you to all of our new supporters, as well, and to members of the growing Rising Star Outreach family. Thank you to those who attended our Gala and to those who were there in spirit. Thank you to those who donated goods and time to help make this gala such a success. Thank you to our dedicated board members. Thank you to those who donated time, energy, and resources to make the gala as special as it was. Of course we want to say a special thank you to the Marriott family for your kind and humble example of giving.
Thank you for your support and love. We could not have done this without any of you. We are so excited to see where we will be in another 19 years and are thrilled we will have you by our side to celebrate our victories along the way!
Photos courtesy of photographer, Breanna White.
The true-life story of the youngest patient in a long-term leprosy hospital who loves to serve and help other leprosy affected patients while he is also getting treatment. #helpingwhilehealing #healingwhilehelping
Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Fran then reached up to feel if the rough spot on his face had gone down during the night. It hadn’t. Was it possible that the skin was even a little more raised? Eyes completely open now, Fran jumped up and sidled into the kitchen where his mother was already awake and beginning preparations for breakfast. Fran rubbed the lid of the small pot his mother sometimes used until he could see his reflection. Leaning in, he checked his reflection in the lid. The red spot on his face did not appear to be going away.
His mother saw him and observed, “it’s the same, my son—except it’s growing bigger.” She weighed her next words carefully. “Maybe we should go to the hospital and get it checked.” Fran’s eyes widened. Hospital? For a small spot on his face? He felt uneasy about his mother’s words—he felt there was something his mother was not telling him. An unspoken word hung in the air. Leprosy. Surely his mother did not think this spot could be the dreaded leprosy?
Fran shook his head back and forth vigorously; an emphatic NO! But his mother was now eying him even more closely. “This afternoon,” she said. “We will get it checked this afternoon.”
Poor people in Bihar, India don’t normally go to doctors. The truth is, almost none of them have a family doctor. If they have a medical need that they can’t cure at home, they go to the hospital. A trip to the hospital can consume hours, often nearly half a day or more. That was the case this time. After what seemed an interminable wait, Fran’s turn finally came.
The doctor initially seemed gruff and exhausted. Nearly every day he felt overwhelmed with the endless lines of people needing his attention. His manner could be short and curt. But as he looked at the patch of raised skin on Fran’s face, he felt a cold dread run through him. This certainly looked like it could be a spot of leprosy. The doctor sent a biopsy for the lab to analyze.
The next time the doctor met with Fran and his mother, his demeanor seemed to have changed. Knowing how the entire family would be affected, he almost gently delivered the dreaded results. Fran had leprosy. For many in India, this dreaded word was not only felt like a death sentence, it carried the weight of a devastating social stigma—one that could affect the standing of the entire family.
Unfortunately, the small clinic/hospital that Fran had gone to didn’t have the means to treat Fran. He would need to seek out other treatment. “But where?”, the anxious mother asked desperately. The doctor shrugged. Most hospitals were not willing to or were unable to treat leprosy. There was a little hospital many miles away in a place called Little Flower that could possibly help him. It was clear up at the top of Bihar, nearly to the border with Nepal. The doctor cautioned that even if there was room for Fran at that hospital, treatment could take up to a year.
For a family of extremely limited means, such a long trip would be difficult. But after heavy reflection, Fran’s mother felt like she had no other option. Fran’s father had died many years earlier and the mother was left with nine children to raise. Fran was the sixth. She would need to ask neighbors to watch the younger brother and sister while she made the arduous journey. She didn’t dare tell the neighbors why she had to go so far, as she feared they would refuse to allow her children into their home.
Finally, all arrangements were made and after offering prayers, Fran and his mother set off for Little Flower in Sunderpur, India. The mother’s unease was increased even more when finally arriving in Sunderpur, she was informed that Little Flower was actually in a leprosy colony. The thought of entering a leprosy colony sent chills of fear down her spine. After coming all this way, she almost felt her courage desert her.
But a mother’s love engenders courage that otherwise would be unthinkable. Holding Fran’s hand firmly, she led him through the leprosy colony and to the little hospital that would hopefully give them the hope that they were so desperately seeking.
Entering the dark hospital ward, Fran’s mother almost gasped in disbelief. This was a hospital? It was nothing but a long room with beds lined up on both sides. The beds were filled with older men, some of them with disconcerting deformities. They stared at the boy dolefully. Many of them had been there sitting on their beds, receiving treatment for leprosy for many months. For some of them, the treatment had taken more than a year.
It was August and the room was stifling hot. There were no working fans, in fact, there didn’t seem to be any electricity; the room was dark even though the sun was blazing outside. (the hospital only has power about two hours a day). Fran’s mother noticed that the windows were so darkened with soot and dirt, they let very little light in.
Finally, the “doctor” examined Fran. He wasn’t a real doctor; only a former leprosy patient who had been healed at the hospital and was now trying his best to help others, in spite of his lack of training. Fran’s mother insisted that he see a real doctor. The examiner shook his head sadly, I’m sorry, but we have no doctor. I’m the best that we have. But the good news is, I think we can cure your son with daily doses of multi-drug therapy. To leave her beloved son in these conditions seemed impossible to the mother. But in the end, having no other alternative she hugged him to her and with tears running down her face, told him her prayers would be with him. Then she left. Fran had never felt so alone.
This was August 2018. Now 12 years old, Fran has been receiving treatment during the past year at the hospital. When I asked our volunteer at Little Flower how Fran was doing, this is what she wrote,
Fran is seen as a light in the hospital. He is the youngest long-term patient at the hospital and given that the leprosy is on his face, he is completely mobile. This allows him to help the other patients, move around the hospital and interact with the staff and visitors regularly. You can often find Fran in the Rising Star Outreach dressing room where he helps other patients with wounds on their feet and legs get to the room and then to the dressing tables where they have the wounds cleaned and bandages changed.
He is often a leader when volunteers come to sing and dance with the patients in the hospital and has the biggest smile and most joyous laugh for a child in his condition.
There was recently severe flooding in the colony. Fran spent hours helping other patients move their belongings to the second floor of the hospital, so they were safe and dry. He also assisted helping displaced villagers get their belongings to the second floor of the hospital so they, too, were safe and dry. He was soaking wet but did not stop until everyone was helped. This is the kind of person Fran is!
We’ve asked our volunteers to tutor Fran every day so that he doesn’t get further behind in his studies. As soon as the patches on his face have gone down, he will be enrolled in the Little Flower School, currently being run by Rising Star Outreach. Given this young man’s determination to make something of his dreams, along with the support and love of his family, we expect him to be an enthusiastic and successful student. With the excellent education offered by Rising Star Fran now has the opportunity to not only improve his own life, but with the possibility of college training now available to him, he can one day return and raise the living conditions of his entire family.
A former Executive Director at Rising Star Outreach, Amy Antonelli, once commented to me that she felt that perhaps that leprosy in the family has turned out to be the greatest advantage these children’s lives could possibly have because it makes them eligible for our programs. With our school graduates going on to pharmaceutical college, medical college, engineering college, and other great careers, these students will have the opportunity for a shot at life that very few children in their original villages will have.
I have reflected on Amy’s words many times. We can often feel picked on, and even beaten down, by life’s challenges. Yet, there are times when those challenges become blessings in disguise. If we can learn to view our challenges as God views them, perhaps we can find the courage to face them and go forward in faith. And as in Fran’s case, if we can learn to see other people as people of unlimited potential, instead of defining them by their challenges, I believe we begin to see them as God sees them. Only then are we able to treat them as God would have us treat them.
Oh, if we could only learn to see as God sees! Each one of us are children of glorious eternal parents. To our Heavenly parents, each child—each life—has equal value. If we could treat each other with this one simple truth in mind, the world would be a different place today.
Article Originally Posted at Meridian Magazine on September 26, 2019; The Boy Who Discovered He Had Leprosy
You can be apart of the #HelpingWhileHealing motto that Fran embodies with his light and service to others. Donate to Rising Star Outreach non-profit today and help heal those affected by leprosy like Fran.Donate! Don’t Wait!
Rising Star Outreach helps empower the leprosy-affected by providing quality education opportunities, medical treatments, and programs to promote community development, skill development, and employment opportunities. Learn more about our programs and continuing efforts here.
Our new Education Director, Dr. Jayaprakash, has just completed two days of amazing teacher training. The comments from the teachers have been so exciting. They’re getting training in the ability to create more interactive and involved classrooms.
Dr Samuel Johnson, a nationally recognized educator, came and spent the first day with the teachers explaining the science behind learning and how different types of learning are processed within the brain. It apparently opened up a whole new awareness of how important it is to construct learning activities that actively involve the students. While this is long standing educational process in the U.S., it is a relatively new concept in India, which has relied on rote memorization as the principal means of teaching ever since the British first established schools there. The teachers were excited to learn about how important their choice of methods can be.
The second day was devoted to brainstorming, practicing, and creating learning activities that helped students internalize concepts being taught.
Dr. Jayaprakash’s reaction to the teacher’s receptivity and enthusiasm was exciting:
“I am pleased to inform you that the two days of training worked wonders. I will send you the feedback I received from the teachers, They are different people now. The motivation level of the school raised to the next level. Please take a look at the trailing mail. This is from the most silent person in the training program…makes me so happy.”
“The two days training class to the teachers of Rising star has been very useful informative–interesting and innovative [This is] a very good change for the academic year 2019/2020. The Child Psychology was applied in learning and teaching. The Audio and Visual Aids of teaching were highly effective [and of great] value to understand. We are all very thankful to the Principal for arranging the two days training!”
As shown above, the response from all the teachers was overwhelmingly positive.
From one of our teachers, Sumatha:
“ It was unforgettable training. We were all motivated, encouraged and stimulated by [so much] information. I would like to say thanks to you and management It is hard for me to express.”
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!
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