Ever since I was 15 years old I’ve wanted to travel to India. My ostensible passion for the country came from my AP Human Geography class where we studied India’s culture, religion, and social systems. But if I’m being honest, I fell in love with India because I fell in love with an Indian boy. Ridiculous, I know, but very true. My point in relating this is to show that for 11 years I’ve tried to find the best way to come to India, and I absolutely found it with Rising Star Outreach. I came to Rising Star expecting to give, serve, love. What I didn’t realize, however, is that I would be receiving so much more than I could ever give. I’ve been taught lessons I didn’t anticipate through my experience and the people I’ve had the privilege of interacting with.
The first lesson is the power of positivity. Working in the colonies, especially on medical days, you see the pain and suffering of the leprosy affected first hand. It is a shocking experience to see your first patient who doesn’t have fingers or an ulcer so deep you wonder if it can ever heal. Despite the overwhelming odds facing those who struggle with this debilitating disease, they remain positive. They literally have every element of society working against them, extreme pain, and live in conditions that would make it difficult to ever feel comfortable and yet, I see smiles of gratitude and happiness. I don’t understand it, I truly don’t.
In Chettipunniyam, there is a beautiful leprosy affected old woman who is always wearing a purple sari. She invites us to sit on her stoop with her gnarled hands and feet, generously cleaning our shoes if they are dirty, but most markedly, she is always laughing. Her beautiful yet sparse smile is always at the ready, brightening our day when it is our purpose to brighten hers.
In Ghandi colony, there was another woman with the most beautiful curly hair (I hadn’t seen that in India!) who was so proud to show off her blue house and gave us a sincere and lasting “naandri” as we waved goodbye. And don’t get me started on the beautiful, wonderful students at Rising Star. They are away from their families, doing school and chores for a significant portion of their day, and they are still smiling. I have fallen in love with the students. They are remarkable, resilient individuals that take care of each other and truly exemplify positivity. A positive outlook on life can shape our life itself. The grace, humility, and positivity of those living in the colonies has indelibly touched me.
The next lesson I’ve learned is that of generosity. The people of India are always giving! Now, I never considered myself a scrooge by any means, but Indians take it to another level. In the Micro grant colony, an older artist and resident came out of her house and offered the entire group bananas.
The house mothers on campus are ready and willing to do a volunteer’s henna or wrap a sari. The students will ask you how your day was and keep asking questions, taking no thought about themselves (well, most of the time they are kids, after all).
Again in Chettipuniyam, I was handing bricks to construction workers Deveraj and Milo, where they were building the foundation for a latrine. The woman’s whose latrine we were working on came out of her house and started talking to me. She invited me to stay at her house next summer, eat her food, and sleep comfortably- all because I was handing a couple of bricks to the actual workers. I want to spend every second of my life thinking about others; the we, not the me, needs to become my priority.
I’ve seen firsthand the beautiful effects that one act of generosity can have. I want to live life fully and lose myself in generous service daily.
The third lesson I’ve learned is less tangible. India has made me want to be better. Loving people, truly and fully, and having that manifest through your actions, as well as the management of your time, is all that matters. I simply want to be better. My time with Rising Star Outreach has not been long enough; I haven’t given all that I want to give just yet. I am forever grateful that I was able to be a part of something so great, so powerful.
— Alexandra Sullivan
Summer 2014 Volunteer