Monday, October 13, 2014

Dance Masters: Emily Hoffman and Katie Homer

We were so blessed this summer to have a wonderful dance teacher here through Promethean Spark. She was well loved and the kids and patients alike enjoyed her spunk and great teaching abilities.

Here is Emily teaching Life Dance, the audition-only dance troupe at Rising Star campus.

And this is Emily dancing with Jayaraj at Mogalvadi Leprosy Colony...

and visiting with another patient at the same colony.

We are so happy to have a new Dance Master join us for the Fall.  Her name is Katelyn Homer.  She also comes from New York City and is so happy to be here serving the kids and patients of Rising Star.

After saying sad farewells to Miss Emily, the kids are settling in and getting used to their new teacher.

The students at Rising Star are so blessed through this partnership with Promethean Spark that provides such a rich dance curriculum and a meaningful forum for teaching life skills.  We are so grateful for wonderful, talented teachers like Emily and Katie who come here to enrich the lives of our students with their knowledge and skill.

Our 5th Standard students learning a new Indian-style dance....and loving it!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Day of the Girl

In 2011 the United Nations selected October 11th as International Day of The Girl.  This day has been set aside to acknowledge and discuss issues surrounding girls around the world. 
One of the issues that Rising Star Outreach likes to address is that of education. We educate girls who could possibly be denied opportunities. Not only that, but we also do it every day.

You can help us celebrate this day by donating to help us out with our mission of educating these girls when you click here. We also invite you to comment on this post with your favorite memory from volunteering with us and interacting with these wonderful girls! Have a wonderful Day of the Girl and donate today!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Common Questions About Leprosy

Let’s face it, the average person doesn’t know very much about leprosy. That's why we have compiled this handy reference guide focused on helping you answer the questions we frequently receive. If any of your questions are not answered here, we encourage you to leave your question in the comment section below, we would love to answer those.

Is leprosy contagious/will I get leprosy if I go to India?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 95% of all adults are naturally unable to get leprosy, even if they are exposed to the bacteria that causes it. In other words, leprosy is mildly contagious, but it is unlikely you will acquire leprosy when you go to India. When someone with leprosy starts treatment, they quickly become non-infectious. Those at greatest risk of contracting leprosy are the family members of a person who has the disease and is not being treated.

How is leprosy identified?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that the first signs of leprosy are usually pale or slightly red areas on the body, particularly the abdomen or extremities. Frequently, there is a decrease in sensation of light touch in the area of the rash. Loss of feeling in the hands or feet may also occur. The infection can also be associated with changes of the skin on the face, such as thinning of the eyebrows. Today, doctors are also able to diagnose leprosy by doing a skin biopsy of the rash.

How soon will I know if I have leprosy?

It is difficult to identify when someone contracts leprosy. The reason is due to the bacterium that causes it. Mycobacterium laprae multiplies slowly and has a long incubation period. Therefore, the infection may not express any symptoms for five to twenty years.

How is leprosy treated?

Leprosy is treated with a combination of three antibiotics commonly referred to as multi-drug therapy (MDT). The antibiotics most commonly used are Dapsone, Rifampin, and Clofazimine. Since 1995, the World Health Organization started providing MDT to all endemic countries free of charge.

Is leprosy curable?

Yes, leprosy can be cured with Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT).

How is leprosy related to Hansen’s disease?

Hansen's disease is another name for leprosy. This is due to the following:

Leprosy has existed for thousands of years, but the cause of Leprosy was not discovered until 1873 by a Norwegian scientist named G.H Armauer Hansen. Until that time, most experts on the subject considered leprosy to be a hereditary disease. Hansen, however, suspected its cause to be a specific, contagious agent and, with this in mind, set out to study individual leprosy patients. He decided to first look for variations in the blood of his patients. Finding nothing, he moved on to examine his patients skin cells. Here, he discovered a foreign bacterium not found in uninfected skin cells. After prolonged studies, these were found to be the cause of Leprosy, now known as Hansen's Disease.

Where is leprosy most prevalent?

Leprosy is most common in India, Angola, Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and the United Republic of Tanzania. Of these countries, India has the highest number of new leprosy cases in the world.

Where can I learn even more about leprosy?

The following websites contain more information about leprosy:

Rising Star Outreach is dedicated to making your experience in India as safe as possible. We will provide high quality personal protective equipment for every volunteer interacting with our friends afflicted with leprosy. We are excited to have you join us in the fight against leprosy, and know your experience in India will be a memory you will treasure for the rest of your life.

Monday, October 6, 2014

President's Letter: Success through Education

Read's Ride for Rising Star

Many people share their time and talents to help Rising Star Outreach be effective in the work of assisting those with leprosy. Keith Read organizes an annual bike ride, Read's Ride for Rising Star Outreach, and reaches out to friends and family to make this a meaningful event. This year it was a smashing success! On behalf of Rising Star Outreach, I thank him for his enthusiasm and passion year after year to raise awareness and money for Rising Star Outreach. Keep those bike wheels turning!

Shawn Bradley Golf Tournament

Each year Shawn Bradley shares his passion for Rising Star by hosting a golf tournament. In September the 5th Annual Shawn Bradley Golf Charity Invitational was held at the beautiful Red Ledges Golf Course in Heber City, Utah. Unusual rainy weather had been forecast, but on the day of the tournament the skies were blue and the vibrant autumn colors provided a spectacular backdrop for the many participants and guests that supported the event. When people think of Shawn Bradley they may think of his height or his successful basketball career, but I think of his incredible giving heart and the hope he offers to those affected by leprosy by providing the means for medical care, micro-grants, and the opportunity of receiving an education. 

We were also honored to have Mehmet Okur, Randy Rigby, and Chad Lewis spend the day supporting Shawn and Rising Star Outreach. A special thank you to them for their part in the success of this day. In my book, they each hit a hole-in-one for Rising Star Outreach!

Thank you to all our sponsors and volunteers and participants of the day!  You have made this year another year of success!

Education with Rising Star

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Many children living in leprosy colonies do not have nor have they ever had leprosy. However, they are often rejected from society due to the lingering stigma surrounding the disease. Because of this stigma these children do not have the opportunity to receive an education. Thankfully, Rising Star Outreach looks beyond the stigma and believes every child should have the advantage of an education. The Peery Matriculation School located on our campus offers rigorous academic programs to almost 300 students, who without Rising Star Outreach would not have this opportunity!

Rising Star Outreach believes in educating children, because education gives children options, education can end the cycle of poverty and education can remove the stigma associated with leprosy.

For many years I was an educator in Utah and in New York City. When I first visited the Rising Star Outreach campus in India, I was impressed with the educational programs because I saw first-hand their effectiveness to make positive changes in the students' lives. As a volunteer I remember sitting under a tree in the mango grove assisting the children with elementary English. I taught a basic phonics lesson about the short "a" sound by using the elements around me:  “We sat on the mat and patted the mat, while the ant ambled by.” It was magical as I witnessed the student grasping the short "a" sound!

Today the classrooms are more sophisticated, but the process, so “painful and insignificant,” is where “success is being achieved” at Rising Star Outreach.

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Recently Ms. Nathiya (Standard IX teacher) and Mr. Dhanasekaran (Standard X teacher) recognized two outstanding students for their moral leadership and school work.


“Naveen Raj is a quiet young man who has shown ability in leadership and responsibility. His family lives in the Government Leprosy Home at Paranur, near Chengalpet. His father has leprosy, and sadly his mother recently passed away. Naveen Raj is a promising student who wants to become a computer engineer. He dances well and is a member of LifeDance, a prestigious dance troupe at Rising Star Outreach in a partnership with Promethean Spark International.

“Naveen is also a star athlete. At the district level he has won gold medals in running, a silver medal for discus throw, and a bronze medal for long jump. He is a proud member of the Student Council and is also the School Pupil leader.

“The transformation of his life from a dismal past in a leprosy colony to a bright and brilliant future is due to the intervention of Rising Star, and he is very grateful to God for providing him with these opportunities.”



“Vijayalakshmi M. is a cheerful and responsible young woman in the 10th standard. Her family lives in Chettipunyam. Her father is a truck driver, and her mother is a homemaker. She also has an older brother.

“She does well in all her subjects because of her dedication and intelligence. Sometimes she even wakes up at 3:00 a.m. to study for her exams! She plans to join the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), which is the premier administrative civil service of the Indian government.

“Vijayalakshmi is a talented dancer and is a member of Life Dance—a dance troupe that not only teaches dancing, but also teaches life skills and values through dance.

"Vijayalakshmi is also a good athlete and has won gold and silver medals at the zonal and district levels in running. She is interested in arts and crafts and has won prizes for theme drawing.

“Most of her peers in the colony do not have much to look forward to except marriage and routine jobs, but thanks to her God-given talents and the intervention of Rising Star Outreach, Vijayalakshmi has the opportunity of becoming a builder and architect of the nation in the highest echelons of the government. She says when she gets a job and 'lots of money', she wants to open a school to teach poor people to dance.”

Thanks to incredibly dedicated teachers at Peery Matriculation School like Ms. Nathiya and Mr. Dhanasekaran, Rising Star Outreach students are not only involved in rigorous academic learning, but also life lessons that enable them to accomplish their educational goals. This education will help them become leaders at Rising Star Outreach and throughout India.

Anne Sullivan, the beloved teacher, knew Helen Keller had the potential to not only learn, but also achieve great things. We at Rising Star Outreach believe each of our students—when given the opportunity to learn—will lift their own lives and those in the leprosy colonies that do not have those same opportunities. My sincere appreciation for your continued support of Rising Star Outreach.  You are Rising Stars in significantly transforming lives.

Happy September!

Sally Read
Rising Star Outreach

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Story from Shyam Advani

It's our 10 year anniversary of being an NGO in India, and we wanted to take this opportunity to ask Shyam Advani, one of our first general managers, to share a bit about his time with us. His words are as follows:

After my wife, Elaine, and I had retired as long-term missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we decided that we wanted to serve as volunteers somewhere else. We saw an article in The Church News about an organization in India that was working with leprosy-affected people and was looking for volunteers. Since I am originally from India, Elaine thought this would be a perfect place for us to serve. We were somewhat concerned about how contagious leprosy is since it is such a debilitating disease and if we would be exposed or would bring it to our family. Those thoughts, however, lasted only for a moment. We were able to contact Becky Douglas, who was the president of Rising Star Outreach at the time, and arranged to go with Rising Star to India in late October of 2004.  

Upon our arrival in Chennai, we were taken to the volunteer housing. There were a couple of single volunteers who were serving as well as another couple, Veldon and DeAnn, who were serving as managers. Veldon and DeAnn had served in India as our Church missionaries and had started with Rising Star after only a couple of months at home. They worked tirelessly for six months and were getting homesick for the family and wanted to be released. They left for home about the middle of December.

Before they left Veldon and I were working to find bigger place for the schooling and residence for the youth. There were about thirty children at the school, and the facility was getting pretty crowded. We looked at a number of places, but none of them matched our requirements. This search was taken on completely by me once Veldon and DeAnn left, as Becky asked Elaine and me if we would be willing to take on the responsibilities as managers.

We were managers for only about 10 days when the whole program changed drastically. India's east coast was hit by huge Tsunami, and we were in great position to assist the people who were affected by the flooding, who had lost lives, livelihood and a place to rest their heads. Becky immediately asked for donations from corporations and individuals with big hearts to help. She called us in in India to let us know that we had more than $50,000 to buy whatever was needed to assist the survivors with their immediate needs. In this we were  assisted by Padma Venkataraman, a wonderful woman. Padma, Elaine, the few volunteers and I immediately started to visit the fisherman's villages that had been hit hard. Most of them had lost family members, boats, fishing nets, all their beddings and clothes.  

Some of the villages were completely cut off by the sea water standing for a week or more. Our apartment and a school were spared because we were about  a 1 Km away from the sea. However the kids and the staff were so scared and had all gone inland to Chengalpet or their homes. This in turn enabled us to help without worrying about the kids.  We were able to determine the needs of about ten villages. This involved a lot of travel since the villages were spread out. We were able to get the food and clothing to them within a couple of days. The boat repairs and purchase of new nets took about six weeks.  Our reward for our work was to see the fishermen bring their catch and put the fish at our feet as a sign that they were in business again.

The tragedy of lost lives will never leave them, but the pride and joy they had on their faces indicated that they were on the road to recovery.

The children and the staff returned to school a week later, just as normalcy returned to our lives. Since then my wife passed away in 2007 and I have returned to school at their new location every year except one and volunteered for 3 weeks to 4 months each time. I just love these children and wish that you would take the opportunity to serve there and feel their love and appreciation for you. A few of these children have graduated and gone on to bigger and better things. The campus keeps getting bigger and better and is waiting for volunteers to come and feel blessed.

With all my love for these kids I close,
Shyam Advani

Friday, October 3, 2014

Padma Venkataraman: A Catalyst for Change

Today we wish to highlight and honor a woman who truly has changed the world: Padma Venkataraman. Padma has played a vital role in helping Rising Star Outreach become what it is today. Her influence at Rising Star Outreach, and many other organizations across the world, will continue for generations.

While I was in India I had the privilege of speaking to Padma over the phone. During our conversation my heart was touched as I got a sense for the genuine love and concern she has for all people. It is my hope that you will come to know Padma as I now know her. I have been inspired by her words and have been motivated to do all I can to make a difference in this world. You can come to know Padma more be reading this transcript of my interview with her.

Padma, with your background as the daughter of the former President of India, you could live a life of luxury if you wanted to. Why did you choose the path you are on?

This is the question I am asked time and again … I don’t really have any answer other than I feel like it is God's call. I really don’t have a specific reason. While I was living in Austria I came to India on holiday and noticed the leprosy-affected people begging at the traffic light. This is not the main reason why I really started and took it so seriously. But after seeing these people beg, I thought if I give them five rupees, it is not going to affect me much, but when they are hungry again they will be back to square one. They will have to come back to beg again. I thought I should either give them a viable alternative to begging, or I should give them some cash. When I went back to Vienna I thought again and again, what could I do? How could I help them? Is there really any way they can be self-sufficient?

What was your first step toward helping those afflicted with leprosy?

My first experience to leprosy work goes way back to 1964. At the request of an organization working for the leprosy-affected people, I promoted wooden toys made by leprosy-affected people. It wasn’t until I was living in Vienna that it really hit me hard and I wanted to do something permanent. I did not want to just give away cash or food. I felt very strongly that anything given free-will has no value. I really wanted to give them something sustainable so they would not have to resort to begging at all.

My first idea was to go to a small colony in Delhi and convince them to be productive members of the society. This concept was totally new to them. They protested saying there is stigma attached to this disease and no one will buy products made by them. They insisted that I should help them by giving clothes, food, blankets etc.

I spent lot of time with them to make them gain self-confidence.

Eventually they came forward to try out the new idea. I talked to government officials and was able to get them free training on how to make detergent. I put in my own money for the initial supplies, and soon we were able to find buyers to buy the detergent in large quantities. This is how I started my very first program. Soon other colony people started contacting me wanting to do something similar. Shahdara Colony in Delhi, the largest colony in the world with 4,000 leprosy-affected people, is transformed into a village bubbling with economic activities.

How did you find out about Rising Star Outreach?

From 1995-2002 I was the director of Women’s Indian Association-DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency) Project for socioeconomic rehabilitation of leprosy-affected people. Ten homes run by government and 30 colonies were taken up. Agricultural and dairy projects and micro grant program for income generating activities were taken up. Training for self governance was given. A revolving fund was created whereby sustainability of the project was ensured.

Two volunteers from Rising Star Outreach were going from colony to colony helping them, giving them rice and beans. While interacting with the colony people my name and the micro grant program were mentioned. So they called me one day and said, "We have heard about you and want to do something really useful. We heard about your micro credit program, can we meet with you?" I said, "By all means. My policy is that I don’t want to give anything away for free because anything that is given away for free has no value. This is my principle."

Then they wrote to Becky and gave her a report of my project I just completed. I was also going to Washington D.C. to meet my daughter. So they told Becky, and I ended up meeting with her in Washington D.C. That is how we met. During our meeting we talked about our dreams, mission and vision and more than anything else we became good good sisters from two different continents.

Without you Rising Star would not be what it is today. What role did you play in helping Rising Star Outreach in the beginning?

I am so happy to be part of Rising Star Outreach from its inception. Becky was keen to start the rehabilitation work without any delay; she also had enough funds to start the work. Her enthusiasm was very infectious. But to bring in foreign money into India we have to fulfill certain rules and regulation. Women’s Indian Association was willing to partner with Rising Star Outreach India to facilitate to start the work. Then we obtained our FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulation Act) permission. Now in a short period of 10 years what RSO has accomplished is really a history.

Are you working with organizations other than Rising Star Outreach?

I am a catalyst. I work with government and non-government organizations both national and international and United Nations organizations. I am President of Women’s Indian Association, Vice President of Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam, Trustee Global Cancer Concern-India, Patron Gandhi Peace Foundation.

Gandhi Peace Foundation is trying to approach the school children to teach Gandhian principles. We visited and interacted with the Rising Star Outreach students. We may not be able to stop war between two nations, but definitely each one of us can practice peace in our own small way. One example is this: there was electricity failure. The grandfather grumbles. The father shouts because his work is disturbed. The mother complains that she cannot finish her cooking. The young boy of the house, who has attended workshop organized by Gandhi Peace Foundation, quietly brings lighted candles to everyone. Peace is restored in the home.

Where did you learn the principles you are spreading throughout the world?

Probably from watching my father while I was growing up. My father often had many people come to him with their problems and he would help them and come up with solutions. Because of him, when I was really young I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor so I could help everybody.

My mother was also influential. She had a wide vision. Once when I was visiting from Vienna she had just purchased a new car. I was going to visit a colony, and I didn’t have a car, so I was going to rent one. Then my mother said, "Why don’t you use the new car?" I told her, "I thought you would like to take the new car to the temple today." She said, "Serving these people is serving God. You take it." I will never forget that. She had so much compassion.

The micro loan program that you have established among the leprosy-affected people is wonderful. How did you come up with the idea to implement a welfare committee and other important elements of the micro loan program to make it work among the leprosy-affected?

That is another question I get all the time. I am sure God must have put it in my head. I have no other answer. Twenty-five years ago no one really talked about giving loans to beggars. Today, I am very pleased because the funds that were initially given to the colonies are still in place. The money is going a long way. The leprosy-affected people themselves are managing the whole operation.

Would you say the women or men are better at the micro loan program and why?

The women are definitely better. They understand that if they don’t repay, then they don’t get more funding. The women Self Help Group (SHG) has really empowered them. Once they gained economic power the men started respecting them. Women are more responsible: they use their income for education of children and to improve the health of the family.

What can someone like me do to help the micro lending program?

Every one of us can lend a helping hand to lift others from poverty and degradation. What they need is an opportunity, not sympathy. They need training in economic activities, financial support to start a business and marketing facility for the finished products.

Most important is to spread awareness among the public that leprosy is not contagious: it is curable. The affected people should be integrated into the mainstream.

What is your hope/goal?

We must have faith in ourselves. Everyone can contribute, however small it is, to make this world a better place to live.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" 
–Mahatma Gandhi

Thank you Padma for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me and help us get to know you better.

Brandon Harvey
-PR Intern and India Volunteer

Thursday, October 2, 2014

#ThrowbackThursday Session 4 with Lon Young

We decided to take this #TBT to look back on session 4 with Lon Young and the Community Outreach rotation. Lon's story goes straight to the heart, and we thought you'd love it as much as we did. 

We're hot and sweaty, and we haven't even arrived at the construction site yet. Our driver has cut the engine while we wait for a train which is taking so long we're beginning to think of trains as hypothetical constructs. There's no air-conditioning and no breeze coming through our open windows, but somehow our volunteers are all smiles. This morning they're heading to Bharathapuram to help out with a latrine-building project. They've been to this colony a few times
before on the Community Outreach rotation, but this will be their last day before their session's over. There are more glamorous jobs at Rising Star Outreach. I'm curious how the volunteers have felt about spending one out of every three days coming out here, digging trenches, hauling bricks, sifting sand, and mixing mortar for leprosy-affected villagers for whom making the long trek to a community toilet is next to impossible.

Erika Madrian, who's going to be a senior at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire in a few weeks, explains that she has really enjoyed doing medical and educational rotations, but that construction projects "offer a kind of instant gratification. You can physically see the difference you're making for the colony." Jocelyn Jones agrees. "It's nice to see immediate results," she adds. "It's a chance to show the people of India that we love them and care about them."

But what about the heat? Wouldn't they rather be sipping milkshakes in the shade? "No way," says Amber Cameron, from Pocatello, Idaho, who swears she likes the hard work and sweating. "It cleanses the soul!" she says. If you could see her beaming as she says this, you'd know she isn't kidding. On the subject of heat, Adam Jones, aged 12, pipes up, "Even thought it's hot, it's fun if you make it fun."

The train finally rumbles past. Soon a barefoot crossing guard begins cranking a set of gears that raises the guard rail. At once, a damned-up river of rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians begins to flow out across the tracks. Our driver fires up the van, and we're lurching forward again, just ten minutes from the colony.

Over the drone of the engine, several more people share what makes the building projects meaningful to them. For Hillary Flinders, it's the personal connections. "I like working alongside the people we're helping," she says. "You can see their faces light up because you were there to help them." It's a sentiment shared by Jordan Harline, from Colorado Springs, who speaks of
the joy in "being able to interact with the people we're serving."

I've been watching this group for the last two weeks. It's true about the connections. I've seen them practicing how to pronounce the names of the villagers, listening, laughing, snapping selfies. I've seen them put down a shovel and sit in the shade with women who are proud to show pictures of their son or their daughter, off to college. I've seen them chomping grains of uncooked rice that were poured into their mouths by gracious hosts who wanted to offer their
hard-working guests the only treat they had. I've seen these volunteers say good morning to strangers and after a day of digging, hauling, and stacking, say good afternoon to friends.

We're pulling into the colony now. All this talk about altruistic motivation can get a little stuffy. So I ask Zack, the youngest of the Jones family here from Pocatello, to weigh in.

"Hey Zack," I ask, "What's this Community Outreach Rotation thing all about?"

Zack is eight, and that's how many syllables it takes for him to answer.

"They don't pay you. It just feels good."

--Lon Young
India Volunteer Director