Before I arrived to the Rising Star Outreach campus I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the months leading up to my trip I had experienced a spectrum of emotions, ranging from extreme excitement to fear. When Erin, the volunteer coordinator, and Anita, the medical coordinator, picked us up from the hotel my excitement grew exponentially. As we listened to them talk and share their experiences I distinctly remember thinking, "I can’t wait to come back and stay longer next time." What an incredible thought! I hadn’t even experienced the program yet, and I was already wanting to come back.This feeling was amplified when we met the kids for the first time. They all ran up to us, grabbed our hands, and said “Hi, my name is so-and-so. What is your name? Nice to meet you!” My heart just melted. They were so polite, affectionate and warm. I knew I was going to love spending time with them and getting to know each and every one of them.
As I spent more time with the Rising Star Outreach kids I discovered what hard working, passionate and disciplined children they are. Some of them study from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Many of them have great goals for the future and want to give back by becoming doctors, engineers, teachers, etc. One night during prayer time I asked the kids to share with me what inspires them. Many spoke about coming from a leprosy colony and seeing how leprosy affects their family’s lives. They not only want to work hard to help their family's, they want to to give back to their communities and help those in need. A few kids even said they specifically want to become leprosy doctors because of what they’ve witnessed their families go through. It was very powerful and moving to hear them speak about giving back in such a manner.
The most amazing part is because of Rising Star Outreach these kids will be able to reach their goals. Just by attending this school they are given opportunities they might not otherwise have, like getting a phenomenal education, learning English and having an extensive support network. It is because of Rising Star Outreach that they are able to rise above their leprosy affected stigma and look towards a brighter future.
Working in the leprosy colonies was always a very moving experience. I remember being very nervous the first time we went to colony. I wasn’t sure what I was going to see and I feared I would get grossed out and offend someone. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I very quickly realized what amazing people they are and enjoyed every moment I spent with them. Most of them could not speak English, but somehow, someway, through a few English/Tamil words and gestures we were always able to communicate. Many people enjoyed telling us about their families and how proud they are of their children and grandchildren. These people had such strong personalities and seemed much happier than I was expecting. There was always at least one person who showered us with gratitude by either singing or praying to us. Words cannot describe how moving and fulfilling it is to be able to help these people and immediately see the outcome of our hard work.
One time, while at a colony the stations got really backed up with people waiting for the nurse to put on new bandages. Without even thinking, three of us began giving the people massages. I oiled and massaged their legs, Sarah massaged their arms and hands and Kenna massaged their shoulders. The smiles on their faces were priceless as they enjoyed the sweet relief of getting a massage. We began to realize these people probably have not had a massage in awhile, if ever. Seeing the gratitude of these people has helped me grow to love them even more.
Everyday after we went to a colony, and on the weekends, we were able to do tourist activities. We went to various temples, the zoo, the bird sanctuary, the beaches and did lots of shopping. It was always nice to do activities like this and experience India outside of the program. I always enjoyed walking around, seeing amazing things and meeting new people. This program was the perfect balance of working with the children, working in the colonies and touring India.
My experiences at Rising Star Outreach has been life-changing. All of these people have presented me with such amazing opportunities that have allowed me to grow as an individual and develop my passion for giving back. Rising Star does such amazing work everyday, and I cannot wait to continue to be a part of this organization. I plan on coming back again with a couple of my family members.