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 is All-American; Padma is Indian to her core. Still, their unity of purpose overrode their striking physical dissimilarities and life experiences.
Padma Venkataraman is the daughter of a former president of India, Ramaswamy 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 India Women’s Conference to the United Nations. 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, and 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 fellow men 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 refugees food, clean water, and cooking oil. Rising Star Outreach was organized in a little rented house on East Coast Road in Chennai, India, during this time. Only 27 children were enrolled and boarding for needed food and shelter. The 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 Outreach’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 a 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 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.