The tragedy we experienced at Rising Star last month was heartbreaking.  Little 12-year-old Varalakshmi drowned in the river behind her colony while she was at home on her summer break.  The students at Rising Star all enjoy spending their one month summer break with their families during the month of May.  Varalakshmi and her two younger brothers went to the river behind their colony to bathe one morning.  The river was swollen from torrential rains that had come the week before due to a cyclone offshore.  Stepping into the river, Varalakshmi was quickly overwhelmed by the current and was swept away.

The thing that touched me about this tragedy was how the loss of a child in a leprosy colony of India has had ripples across America.  Most people in America aren’t even aware that there are more than 700 colonies of leprosy-affected people in India.  These are people that the rest of the world has basically forgotten.  Yet when little Varalakshmi drowned there were many hundreds who mourned her. All her school friends at Rising Star Outreach have felt the loss of her happy enthusiasm. Her teachers and housemothers also mourned.  On this side of the world, Varalakshmi had four sponsoring families in America.  Each one was called, and each one expressed great sadness and remorse in the loss of her young life.  The children in these families felt they had lost a good friend.  Monica, a daughter of one of Varalakshmi’s sponsors, had visited her in India and was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to greet her again in June.  The office staff at Rising Star was in mourning for a week.  We all felt her loss deeply.

The day after Varalakshmi died I had a need to call one of the dentists who has worked for us in India.  Upon hearing the news, his wife gasped, “Not Varlakshmi!  Oh, please not Varalakshmi!”  This dental  assistant and her husband, the dentist, had worked several times on Varalakshmi’s teeth, and like so many others, had been drawn in by her sweet, open personality.

Notes began to pour in from all over America from former volunteers who had spent special moments with her and who had sweet stories to share.  Pictures came to the office from many sources.  One thing was very apparent—Varalakshmi, this small girl in a leprosy colony in India—was loved by hundreds.  There was some peace in this knowledge.  Just a few short years before coming to Rising star, the story would have been very different.  If Varalakshmi had been swept away by the river, there would have been little notice by anyone outside her family.  Her life would have been quickly forgotten.

But the legacy of love that she has left has now touched many across the world.  As hard as it has been to lose her, there is comfort in knowing how her life was blessed by many who loved her.  Our lives were also blessed.  Her shy smile brightened many volunteers’ days, her laughter lit up the room, her giggles during nighttime reading were contagious, her unabashed laughter on the playground affected all around, and her eyes literally danced when she finally “caught” a new math concept.  All this will be missed.  But Varalakshmi spent years of her life loved and cherished at Rising Star Outreach schools.  She truly left a legacy of love.

At Rising Star we have a firm belief that every life in the world has equal value! As we see how our lives become interwoven as we reach out to lift and love others, we marvel at the love that we share in return.  Our own lives are enriched and ennobled.  The heartbeat of love, reaching across the boundaries of countries and cultures has reminded each of us how precious each life is and how honored each of us is to be connected to others.

Our hope is that we may expand our outreach so that the day will come when no child falls unnoticed in a leprosy colony of India—that each life, no matter how long or short, will be marked by acts of love and encouragement that lift and bring joy to both those who give and those who receive.

When a stone is tossed into a pond the ripples go out seemingly endlessly.  In like manner, the ripples of love that came from Varalakshmi have blessed so many of us and remind us all that each life is precious.

Becky Douglas

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