My husband Aaron (a pediatric dentist) and his assistant Nicky joined my daughter Faith and I for a week of concentrated dental service. With 223 children at Rising Star and only a week to see them all, we planned, prayed and then got to work. With the invaluable help of the long term volunteers Erin and Emily, and the housemothers (who are also nurses), we were able to see each child for a cleaning and exam, alleviate pain and infection, fix front teeth that were broken, chart all needed work and perform several more necessary procedures. We also spent a great deal of time on personal oral hygiene instruction and then we were given time with the entire group to teach them about the how’s and why’s of good oral hygiene.

Moorthy with his dental floss

One of the favorite pictures in my mind is that of Moorthy trying to floss his own teeth. He has severe crowding and it’s difficult for him to keep them clean. When I pulled out the floss, his puzzled look immediately told me he was seeing it for the first time. I gave him a mirror to hold and watch while I flossed his teeth, and then it was his turn. I choked back tears as I watched him struggle for what seemed like an eternity; trying desperately to hold the floss the right way and gently slide it between each tooth. Something so automatic to me was a monumental task for him. But he never gave up. He was determined to learn how to use this new gift he was given.

Marutha Rajamanikkam and his glove balloon.

For all of us, the week in the dental clinic continued to change our hearts. I can’t imagine the frightened feelings some of these children carried as they were brought into the clinic, not understanding what was going to happen. Some hid their anxiety better than others, but with each child we took time to comfort and love them before ever looking at their teeth. Rajamanikkam, a sweet little guy who speaks almost no English, was especially apprehensive. He climbed into my chair and as I talked to him, I realized he not only didn’t understand what I was saying, his little body was trembling with fear. To get his mind off things, I blew up a glove balloon and handed it to him. In America the kids go crazy for this one, but he had no idea what to make of it. He carefully held on to it with both hands while I cleaned his teeth, and when he was done he stood up and timidly handed it back to me. I hope he felt safe and knew that the reason he was there at the dental clinic was because we loved him. I hope all the children felt that.

Aaron’s job was the most difficult, as he had to pull teeth and fix cavities that had previously been very painful for the children.
Some ran away giggling and covering their mouth because they were scared. After spending the day with Aaron, that all changed. The children were in love (or else they really wanted to skip class). They went from covering their mouths and running away to running up to us, exclaiming, “Pain! Pain!” because they knew that was the magic word to get them into the dental clinic! In the end, it was disheartening to leave without finishing everything that needed to be done, but we left knowing that we gave everything we had. And we take comfort in knowing that there are other dentists with servant’s hearts, who will come and continue the dental mission that Dr. Scott McGavin was inspired to organize a few years ago.

Before meeting the children at Rising Star, I felt a great sadness at their conditions and wanted nothing more than to give them all those things that my own children have.  After only a few days, I found my heart longing to give my own children the things these children have. 
I returned home to the United States and as I opened my email for the first time I was struck at the messages I read – advertisements for the latest fashions, new essentials, and must-haves. None of it seemed important. Because in India I learned that happiness is not in the pursuit of having. It is only found in the giving. And the irony is, the more you give, the more you have of all the things that really matter. There are different lessons for all of us to learn there, but they will all emerge from that great truth.
Rising Star is many things. A home.  A healer. A teacher. A nourisher. An opportunity giver. A change maker. For those in India…and for all of us.

— Tara Collins (Volunteer)

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