Wednesday, March 4, 2015

President's Letter: Education Illuminates the Soul

 “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” -Allan Bloom
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The above statement is certainly relevant to Rising Star Outreach.  Education illuminates the lives of our students and compassionate service brings light to lives darkened by the physical and social disease of leprosy. Starting a small business through micro-grants ignites a light within a mother or father, giving them the opportunity to support a family rather than begging in the streets. Light is a powerful symbol of the love, optimism and hope Rising Star Outreach brings to the lives it touches.
March is a busy month on our campus in India as teachers prepare the students for annual exams, and the 5th, 8th, 10th, and 12th standard students are preparing to sit for the annual government exams. It’s a time when our students buckle down and focus on the exams in an environment of encouragement and support.

Another reference to light says, “A good teacher is like a candle –it consumes itself to light the way for others.” —Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The Peery Matriculation School prides itself on high educational standards through dedicated teachers and administrators that provide an exceptional learning environment. We recognize Mr. Hirudayanathan A., education adviser; Mr. Richards V.S., headmaster for the high school; Mr. Sanakaranamasivayam B., headmaster for primary school; and all the extraordinary teachers who bring light and knowledge to each Rising Star Outreach student.

Dr. Nancy Sorensen, an educator from the United States, visited the campus in January to share her knowledge and insights with teachers at the Peery Matriculation School.

Dr. Sorensen presented workshops on teaching techniques that enhance activity-based learning and higher level thinking skills. I greatly appreciate Dr. Sorensen’s efforts to spread the light of knowledge.
Light and hope symbolize the expansion of our work in the Trichy area in southern Tamil Nadu. Through the generous support of The Order of St. Lazarus and other organizations, we are serving colonies there that have been in darkness and despair for years.  Last year Dr. Susan and I visited several of these colonies.  We were shocked by the level of desperation we saw, especially in the 21st Century. It was heart wrenching.

Dr. Susan comments, “When I first visited the place, the people looked grim and gloomy. Their clothes were filthy. The children were malnourished. The inhabitants earned a living by begging, crime, brewing illicit liquor, and soliciting. There were frequent quarrels among them. They were very angry and wanted the vehicle driver and me to leave immediately. The dogs were all barking. We left a business card, then called again after a month and asked if they would let us help. They said, ‘Yes, come.’”

Dr. Susan and our team have been working in the Trichy colony for the past year. The residents were literally in darkness and asked for light—the light of simple electricity. After seven months of diligent effort, Rising Star Outreach was able to get electric power to the colony. Dr. Susan continues, “We started to send our team, and the health of the patients improved dramatically. They started to bathe and wear clean clothes. Then Rising Star Outreach built a community shed. This was used for our medical work and their social needs. A welfare committee was organized. They are united now. Perpetual Education Grants were given for three children. They want to send one child to our school and are sending in application forms.”
While on campus in January I walked into Dr. Susan’s office and was pleasantly surprised to meet leaders from the Panchapur Colony. I barely recognized them! Dr. Susan and I were astonished at their physical transformation. Instead of the darkness and despair we had seen months before, their faces glowed with the light of hope! They had travel all night to reach the campus to express gratitude for the assistance they received from Rising Star Outreach. “It is a miraculous transformation by God working through weak and frail human beings using the age-old panacea of all ills: kindness," said Dr. Susan Hilton.
This is the essence of Rising Star Outreach’s mission—to assist the "least among us", who are enshrouded in darkness, to find illumination through light: light of knowledge through education, light of the restoration of health and healing, light through the grants to individuals or families who want a hand up not a hand out.

You have my sincere appreciation for supporting this remarkable work. Because of your constant support of Rising Star Outreach, you make the saying at the beginning of this letter true: “Compassion and kindness are the movement from darkness to light.
Sally Gardner Read
Rising Star Outreach
P.S. I love this photo of one of our sweet couples in the Bhararthapuram colony. Rising Star Outreach build an outhouse for them. They wanted to thank us, so they invited us to their home. Gigi, one of our volunteers, let them take some ‘selfies!’ Priceless!

Monday, February 9, 2015

President's Letter: For Good

“I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but, because I knew you I have been changed for good.” 
Stephen Swartz, playwright of “Wicked”

These poignant words reflect the feelings of Rising Star Outreach participants. Throughout the years their lives have changed for the better by working with those affected by leprosy. It saddens us that in the past few months many dear friends have died, but we are touched by their goodness and legacy.

Our beloved Chairman of the Indian Board of Directors and Co-Founder of Rising Star Outreach, Ms. Padma Venkataraman lost her husband, Dr. K. Venkataraman, on January 16, 2015. He was an avid supporter for those affected by leprosy. Through his support of Padma, he touched and improved many lives. We express our deepest sympathy to Padma and her family.

We are also saddened at the passing of our patient and dear friend from the Mogolvadi Leprosy Colony, Saroja. Saroja contracted leprosy when she was very young and lived with this disease for over thirty years. She lived with the incredible challenges and struggles caused by leprosy, but found the strength to share her love, which touched the lives of her friends in profound ways.

Saroja was known as the "bird lady" because she shared her meager supply of food with birds, squirrels, and other animals. Her fragile body was ravaged by leprosy and she constantly suffered from pain and discomfort. Despite this, she greeted all with a contagious, bright smile. Many medical workers and volunteers went to Mogolvadi to lift Saroja, yet she was the one that lifted our spirits and touched our souls.


Karupiah, a patient in the Kalvarinagar Leprosy Colony, also passed away this year. He finally had his eyesight restored after 20 years of blindness. He lifted others by his devotion to praise God for His goodness and mercy.

Muthushah, the carpenter in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony also passed away this year. His beautiful woodwork was well known throughout the area near the colony, and because of him the stigma associated with leprosy was lessened.


Muniyamma, another patient living in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony, passed away in January. I have known Muniyamma for over eight years and always looked forward to my visits with her. She was a strong woman who faced the disease of leprosy with a positive attitude and quiet strength. I appreciate her friendship and will miss our visits together.

We express our sympathy to the families of these dear friends and to all others that have passed this year. Their legacy of resilience and love lives on, and we honor them by helping others.

I am writing this newsletter from the Rising Star Outreach campus in India. It is after-school playtime, and I can hear the gleeful voices of the children on the track and the playground. The sound of their happy voices is music to my ears because I know how diligent they are in their studies, not only during the day, but also in the evening.  Playtime is a wonderful way for them to develop their creativity and imagination, which in turn invigorates their bodies and enlivens their brains. The Rising Star Outreach campus is a center for learning. We want our students to be in an environment of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth and development. We also believe that value-based learning is integral to a child’s education. I am grateful to the professionals and staff at Rising Star Outreach for their hard work and dedication in changing these lives for good.

In January I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Women to Women Session (W2W) on our beautiful Rising Star Outreach campus. Volunteers come from all over the world to share their skills and talents with Rising Star Outreach. It’s humbling and exciting to watch as they immerse themselves in this remarkable work, gain an understanding of a new culture, and experience the heat and humidity. As many of you know, they experience emotions that range from heart wrenching to joyous, and as they witness the extremes of India they don't spend time asking why, but rather how? How can I help? It’s heart-warming that volunteers focus on the positive aspects of this work, rather than dwelling on the aspects that could be perceived as overwhelming.

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Volunteers are humbled when a patient's face lights up with gratitude as their ulcers are washed and cleaned. Volunteers are gratified when they work on a colony project and realize how significant these projects are to those living in the colony. Volunteers thrill to see the delight on a child’s face when a new concept is understood or mastered. They feel these heartfelt emotions because their help makes a huge difference in the lives of the students and the patients they assist.

If the words from the above song resonate with you in being led to those who help us most to grow, come join us as a volunteer. It truly is life changing. Ask a volunteer to share their story!

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Your continued support of Rising Star Outreach is deeply appreciated. Because of you, Rising Star Outreach has been changed for the good.


Sally Read
Rising Star Outreach

Thursday, January 1, 2015

President's Letter: New Year

“I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs,
to pray for peace, to plant some trees,
and sing more joyful songs.” 
—William Arthur Ward

Peery School Student, Sathya K., Assistant in Sapphire House. 2014 Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski

As a New Year begins I want to express sincere gratitude for your support of Rising Star Outreach. Supporting our programs is a vote of confidence in what we are doing, and we look forward to another year of providing the very best assistance to those affected by leprosy through these remarkable programs.

The mission of Rising Star–to help the leprosy colonies become thriving, self-sufficient communities–is accomplished with three major initiatives:

  • Using micro-grants to provide economic rehabilitation
  • Providing medical care
  • Giving opportunities to students to become productive citizens of India through education

    This month Tyler Vigue, Executive Director at Rising Star Outreach, prepared a report about these initiatives and included information about the Sponsorship and Volunteer programs. Click here to see the report! Because of the diligence and hard work of our amazing India and USA staff, Rising Star continues to be an effective and efficient organization!

    If you've ever wondered about who the students are that we help at Rising Star Outreach, here's a brief message from one of our students!

    Krishnamoorthy's School Photo

    "This is me :) I am Krishnamoorthy. I'm in 10th Standard in Rising Star Outreach. My family lives in Krishnagiri district. My sister is married, and my younger brother is doing his 7th Std with me in Rising Star Outreach. My favorite subjects are Science and Math. My ambition is to become a doctor because I like to serve the society. I always look forward to learning something new. I also participate in all the sports events conducted in school. My favorite games are volleyball and cricket. I am a good opening batsman in the cricket team. I love playing musical instruments like the guitar and the drums. My favorite hobby is listening to music. I have also started learning classical music because of my interest in it."

    January 25 is World Leprosy Day! This special day raises awareness of leprosy as a 21st century disease and helps those around the world focus on the needs of some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world—those affected by leprosy. Share the mission of Rising Star with your friends, sponsor a child, donate to one of our initiatives, or sign up to volunteer with us this year! With your assistance Rising Star can continue its work of transforming and lifting lives. You make it possible to“right some wrongs, pray for peace, plant some trees, and sing more joyful songs.”   

    Happy 2015!


    Wednesday, December 31, 2014

    Rising Star Outreach Milestones 2014

    The following blog post, written by Executive Director Tyler Vigue, is a report on the incredible progress we've made as an organization this past year. 

    Peery School Student, Veera, 2nd Standard. 2014 Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski


    All five Rising Star Outreach students studying in the 12th Standard completed their studies and four of them have continued on in various educational programs in both collegiate programs and work-study vocational programs.

    The 10 students studying in the 10th Standard all did well, passing their critical state exams. All ten were subsequently admitted and enrolled in the prestigious St. Johns Academy, where they are doing very well.  

    The student body on campus has grown to a new high of 240 students.

    Perpetual Education Colony Grants were issued to 188 students from various leprosy colonies throughout Tamil Nadu to allow them to live at home and study in their local schools. 

    All together, the total number of students being supported in their education by Rising Star Outreach is currently 447!

    Medical Services

    The Mobile Medical Clinic provided primary care for up to 485 patients each month in the 11 satellite colonies served. Over 100 patients were referred and admitted to hospitals for additional services, while 38 different patients received assistive devices from Rising Star Outreach. 

    Hundreds of patients in these satellite colonies received additional support from Rising Star Outreach in the form of food, supplies, psychological counseling, eye care, physiotherapy, vaccinations, and health education. With the support of Rising Star Outreach, several colony members also began participation in substance abuse rehabilitation programs.  

    Monthly, 175 additional leprosy-afflicted patients in extension colonies received supplies of bandages and medicine to support the use of their self-care wound kits.  

    In June, 2014 the first expansion office of Rising Star Outreach was opened in Trichy. In the first month of operation, the medical team of the Trichy branch identified and registered 95 leprosy-affected patients for services. In less than six months the total number of patients has grown to over 500 patients registered and several hundred receiving services each month. 

    All told, over 20,000 medical services were rendered by Rising Star Outreach in 2014! 

    Leprosy colony tenant Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski

    Colony Development 

    Infrastructure: Improved living conditions in 8 colonies and two villages by constructing 22 toilets and 3 water tanks. Additional services were provided to renovate 2 toilets, enhance access to water and electricity, and sustain and improve community resources such as community centers where Rising Star Outreach medical services are provided.

    Economic Opportunity: Micro-grants were extended to five newly established groups in five different colonies, benefiting 51 enterprising recipients of new loans. Revolving loans from existing funds were extended to 108 recipients from 12 ongoing support groups in five different colonies.

    All told 159 individuals capitalized on micro-credit opportunities from Rising Star Outreach to start or enhance income generating activities to bless their lives and the lives of their families.  

    Thanks for all of your help and service!
    Rising Star Outreach not only began providing more services to more colonies in 2014, but also identified at least 3 colonies that were not even known before and has initiated various programs to serve scattered leprosy-affected individuals throughout Tamil Nadu.  

    Many lives have been lifted and there is still much to be done and we could not do it without the help of each of you. 

    - Tyler Vigue, Rising Star Outreach Executive Director

    Sunday, November 30, 2014

    President's Letter: Holiday Giving

    December 2014 Newsletter

    “Leprosy work is not merely medical relief. It is transforming the frustration in life into the joy of dedication, personal ambition into selfless service. If you can transform the life of a patient or change his values of life, you can change the village and the country.”  
    -Mahatma Gandhi
    While we prepare for a joyous holiday celebration with family and friends, let's pause to reflect on those who are not so fortunate and remember Rising Star Outreach on our gift-giving list. Rising Star Outreach has a deep impact on the lives we touch in India. You and your family can be part of this meaningful work by contributing to the many giving campaigns we have. Visit our website and get started on your own giving campaign!

    For less than the price of most candy bars—a dollar a day—you can help give a child proper nutrition, medical care and dental care, and the blessing of a quality education. Eight years ago when I first volunteered at Rising Star I met Sonya, a student at our Rising Star campus. Because she was so shy and had limited English, she struggled in school. Today Sonya is one of the top students in the 12th Standard and is looking forward to attending a top ranked university to study medicine.  She wants to use the opportunities she has been given to give back to her country. Sponsoring a child like Sonya gives the gift that keeps on giving throughout many generations! A friend of Rising Star lost a teenage daughter in a tragic death. She decided to sponsor a young girl in honor of her daughter. She wrote:

    I took the opportunity to sponsor a teenage girl. That means that I will pay a dollar a day to help support her and others at the school. She is a member of the school dance group. I felt [my daughter’s] nod of approval as I watched [my sponsor child's] passion for dancing. I couldn't stop the tears when I observed her smiles and joy when she performed—very much reminding me of [my daughter’s] joy and passion for dance. I feel so connected to this young girl [and also my daughter]. She wants to be a teacher one day, and I plan to do everything I can to make that a reality for her.”
                                -- E. Knell

    Click here to sponsor a child!

    If you’re looking for a meaningful experience for yourself or your children, if you're looking for an opportunity to serve as a family, please volunteer at Rising Star Outreach. Serving side-by-side with your family or friends makes memories that last a lifetime! It certainly was life changing for my family. One parent shared his thoughts about serving with his daughter at Rising Star Outreach:
    “My oldest daughter and I arrived at Rising Star’s campus in India in July 2014. It has been an amazing experience. We visit colonies to care for leprosy patients. We do manual labor and we visit the school. It’s hard work. Hard physically and hard emotionally, to see people suffering great physical pain, to be so far from everything familiar...but it’s just that sort of challenge that gives me confidence in the outcome of our family. It is the process of quietly serving others, dad after day that builds the qualities every parent wants to see in their children; a caring heart, a selfless attitude, and the confidence to do hard things. These are qualities that we talk about but struggle to teach when we are engulfed in our own easy lives; yet they develop naturally when you spend your days serving someone else far from home, and far outside your own comfort zone.
    It’s a wonderful thing to watch my daughter work to build up others and know that they are building up her as well, in ways that my wife and I can hardly do without their help. I look at the other volunteers and smile, as I think of their parents worrying about them. I watch them all serve and I see how well they are doing. And I wish every parent could experience what I’ve been through here. “
                  --N. Wells

    Click here to be a volunteer!

    Last October while visiting a new colony I met a beautiful woman, a mother named Nithia. She shared with me that begging in the streets was very difficult, but it helped feed her children. She had no hope that life could be different for her.  Because Nithia has received a micro-loan from the self-help group in her colony, today she has a small business as a seamstress and is no longer humiliated by begging in the streets. She is lifting her own life and filling her children’s lives and her community with hope! Please consider contributing to the micro-grant program and empowering individuals with the gift of dignity and productive work.

    Click here to contribute to the micro-grant program!

    This year our wish list includes ways you can help Rising Star purchase specific items that are needed in the colonies and on the campus. You and your family might be interested in providing assistance for the Medical Program, which helps thousands receive essential medical care, bandages, and medicines. You can make a donation to help purchase clothing, blankets, or items for the classrooms, or donate to help purchase a sewing machine or even a goat! (Now that’s a great way to get your children excited about helping others!)

    Click here to “Buy a Goat” and other gift guide items!

    Heartfelt thanks for helping Rising Star Outreach transform lives through these generous gifts. Our own lives are transformed and enriched when we care enough to reach out to others.

    Happy holidays!


    Sally Read
    Rising Star Outreach