What a marvelous experience it was to return to Rising Star Outreach after 7 years.  This past April my 12-year-old son Sam and I spent the last week of a 3 month tour of Asia at Rising Star Outreach’s campus outside Chennai, India. It was a gift to be there and have an opportunity to serve and connect with people in a real way, which we hadn’t had an opportunity to do during this journey until this point. We had seen and done incredible things throughout the ten countries we had visited but nothing touched our hearts or was more memorable than our experience at Rising Star.
Our first trip to Rising Star Outreach was in 2008 and came as a result of me searching to find a humanitarian trip where our family could serve be reminded of how blessed we were. I wanted to travel in a whole new way where we weren’t just seeing the world but were interacting and in some small way making a difference. The stars aligned, and I ended up coming to Rising Star Outreach with 22 of my family members back in 2008.  It was the most memorable trip we had ever taken as a family. After seeing what the vision of Becky Douglas, Amy Antonelli and Padma Venkataraman has become, I genuinely feel that this organization is divinely inspired and that through the service of many the future of generations of leprosy affected people is being changed.
The stars of the organization are the students at the Perry Matriculation School. To see the change in these children after 7 years is a testament to the effectiveness of the school. The new curriculum, the volunteer tutoring, and the extra programs and clubs are all working in strengthening these students. They are not only smart and nearly fluent in English, but also confident and talented. It was exciting to work with them during our volunteer tutoring sessions and see how much they are learning and how much their English has improved. It was a treat to be able to play with them and spend time with them during story time.
It was exciting to see how the medical program of Rising Star Outreach has grown. The new medical clinic they have on campus, along with the reliable vans and doctors and nurses they have on staff, allow Rising Star Outreach to more reliably serve their students and the students’ families in the colonies miles outside the Rising Star Outreach campus. What a humbling experience to join the medical clinics to wash and care for the feet of those with physical ailments associated with leprosy. What a blessing it was to feel of their gratitude and experience their bright spirits as we served them. 
We spent a day working in the fields planting trees and moving rocks for the new gardens that will serve the community and supply fresh fruits and vegetables to Rising Star Outreach. It felt good to work alongside other volunteers and locals building friendships through hard work.
On our last day as we toured the largest leprosy colony in the area. We had visited last time we were in India, so it was incredible to see the effects of the micro-grants and community support that Rising Star Outreach has provided. It was jaw dropping. This community of almost 400 people is now actively employed with help from the micro-grants. They also now have clean streets due to the permanent trash bins that have been built, a working clean water source, a community building where they can meet and congregate, and sanitary toilet facilities that improve health and hygiene. As we met and visited with people during our walkabout it was just amazing that we could not only see but also genuinely feel the difference in this colony.
I am grateful for the opportunity to return to Rising Star Outreach and am so glad to have brought our youngest son, Sam. What a blessing it is as a mother to see him find joy in serving and building friendships and memories that will always be a part of him.  It has been inspiring to see how as a result of the support and efforts of so many, Rising Star Outreach has grown. It has not only lifted those that have been considered  “untouchable” but provided a way for them to regain their self respect and stand on their own. Thank you for letting volunteers be part of this amazing work and for another most memorable experience. 

– Karen Marriott and Sam Rafferty

Contact Heidi Lelle to learn how you can become a volunteer with Rising Star Outreach or share your volunteer stories on our blog at: hlelle@risingstaroutreach.org.
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