Friday, March 2, 2012

Thottanaval: Rising Star Outreach of India

If there's anything I could choose to accurately convey in this post, it would be the legitimacy of Rising Star Outreach.  The last week or so have really put things into perspective.  Through different experiences, conversations, and observations I have come to the realization that this organization is truly inspired and absolutely making a difference. In just three weeks I have come to love everything about this program: the Indian and American staff, the colony patients, the campus and beautiful children, the list just goes on . . .

And now for my best attempt at explaining what Rising Star Outreach is and how it works:

The story begins with the founder, Becky Douglas, who initially took her first visit to India in memory of her late daughter.  After sorting through personal belongings, the family discovered she had been consistently donating funds to an orphanage in India. As a tribute to their daughter, Becky and her husband traveled to the orphanage and donated proceeds collected at the funeral. While visiting India, however, they were more taken aback with the situation involving victims of Leprosy.

As constructed by the Indian Caste System, victims of Leprosy are classified as the lowest of all individuals and are often referred to as the "untouchables".  This status not only governs their social stereotypes, but also determines which Gods they worship, specific rights they qualify for (which aren't many), and secludes them to living in leprosy colonies.

Early manifestations of Leprosy include lack of skin pigmentation, skin stiffness/dryness, and severe muscle pains.  As the disease intensifies the results are horrific and usually results in loss of fingers, toes, and limbs. Most victims of the disease surrender all hopes of a normal life and spend each day begging as a way to make ends meet.  Becky was so troubled by this disturbing reality that she knew a change had to be made. After sitting at her kitchen table with a four close friends Rising Star Outreach was created in hopes to provide a better lifestyle to the victims and families of those who suffer from Leprosy. 

Rising Star Outreach Mission: 
Assist Leprosy colonies become thriving, self-sufficient communities.
Three Major Initiatives:
1) Address the unique health challenges of the leprosy-affected with mobile medical units.
2) Provide the leprosy-affected with their own small businesses using micro-finance.
3) Educate the children of the leprosy-affected in a safe, healthy environment.

Initiative one: Medical.  Each Friday I have the opportunity to participate in medical efforts at various colonies. After setting up all of the stations, each patient retrieves their paperwork goes through the same process each time.
Doctor Sugunya completes a rough check up.

Next, heart rate and blood sugar levels are recorded.

Those with ulcers (most) have their feet cleaned, oiled, and re-bandaged. 

* * * * *

Initiative two: Small businesses. The retirement home in the Baharatupuram is just one of several small businesses initiated through micro-loaning.  After learning about R.S.O., an artist from Austria moved to India and opened an art school for the elderly.  Their pieces are incredible and have now been showcased in dozens of art galleries across Europe and North America. All proceeds from the pieces support those living in the Baharatupuram rest home.
The school's front entryway.

The artists paint each day from 9-11 a.m. and continue after lunch from 1-3 p.m.

 I loved the bright and vivid approach to their artwork.

Despite their loss of fingers or sensation in the extremities, the students exhibit astounding ability to create gorgeous pieces.

"Even though I have the problems of leprosy every day, the painting brings me happiness. 
I now have peace of mind."

Cousin Kelli selected a beauuutiful piece of artwork to purchase. Here she is with the artist.

* * * * *

Initiative three: Educate the children of the leprosy affected.
The bulk of my experience with Rising Star- tutoring elementary school students Monday through Friday in reading, writing, and math.  What an amazing opportunity to get to know these kids and see the contrast between their colony lives as compared to their current circumstances here at Rising Star. Whether it's teaching them, eating together, or just goofing off, I have so thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them.  Spending time daily with them has been one of the purest and most refreshing forms of happiness I have experienced.

Last weekend was parents day.  The students live anywhere from 1-14 hours from their parents. Their families travel great lengths to see them each month.
Sangita, Shalini, Sonia, Angelin, and Monisha wearing their most beautiful ensembles for parents day.

Megala.  Aren't they just beautiful?! (It kills me.) Getting stoked for her family to arrive.

Seeing the initial reunion between the parents and children = tender.

Meet one of my favorite boys on campus- M. Vijay. 
Here he is, just absolutely thrilled to be with his mama.

Beautiful Eswari with her papa.

Theerti, unable to stop smiling from ear to ear, with her madre.

Basha and Mariambe reunited with family.

Such a cool experience to walk around campus and see all of the families nestled under the shade of mango trees enjoying each other's company.

In other news . . .
This is the house we live in (Me, Kelli, Kenady, Betty, and Celina Mam). 
Appropriately referred to as the Green House.  Comfy, cozy.

Officially obsessed with the gorgeous artwork (Kolam) some of the housekeepers create each week.

Like this one. No problem, right?

Have enjoyed meeting a variety of amazing people (founder, board members, etc.) in the last little bit.

Kelli found a disGUSting spider getting comfortable in our restroom so we made Sam dispose of the creature. Nandri, Samuel.

Another recent highlight- playing volleyball with the local villagers.

They are GOOD. Can't imagine what a good pair of Nikes could do for their game.

Keith and Sally Read are here! Sally, soon to be Mrs. Rising Star Outreach presidente is a long time family friend.  So great to meet these amazing people that my family has spoken so well of for years.

Visiting a student's home.  Subi lives in a nearby village just a bike ride away from campus.

Subi's sister and mother.

Keerthika (another student from the nearby village) and her adorable baby sister!

Indian baby ankle bangles. Adorable.

"Taking care of business, every day!"

Let the good times roll . . .

[This small novel of a blog post is now finished.  Thanks to all who endured to the bitter end.]


Sarah said...

its kinda like the nazi pyramid we learned about....kinda. they look like GREAT people. youre a good person.

Natalie said...

looks beyond amazing! so glad you're having this opportunity!

iminindiaandyourenot said...

Yes, you are definitely a very good person, Brooke. Fantastic photographs!

iminindiaandyourenot said...

And a few more comments: I appreciate very much your cheerfulness and tolerance. Those character traits will serve you well all your life. It's been a privilege and a pleasure to serve the children of India alongside someone like you, Brooke. You have a wonderful life ahead of you.

Lauren said...

You really are such a good person. I was just imagining all of us in heaven, and you are greeting all of your friends from all over the world and I'm just sitting with Braden. hahaha

Si said...

Beautiful photos and stories Brookie! Love seeing Keith and Sally too! love you.

cole linnae said...

OMG. this is so wonderful shokes.

and the baby feet! ahhhhhhh!

you can call me Liz said...

HAHAHA "taking care of business"

also. great info! India someday :)

corrine said...

i loved this! such an amazing experience for you. i can't wait to hear more in person when you get home. love you.

Benson Massey said...

Great Experience Good to Read
Kind regards

Benson Massey