Rising Star Outreach

It was absolutely beautiful walking from the volunteer dorms and courtyard to the school yard; we walked along the David Archuleta walkway of hope (a stone walkway with the names of donors many of whom are David Archuleta fans), along another path lined with breathtaking greenery, through the school, and around to a dirt path. As I walked I could hear laughter, screaming, shouts, joy, innocence, and love. Then suddenly we came around the last corner where a hundred children were playing. Screams of joy escalated as they saw the “new volunteers”. They immediately charged.  The first child to reach us was a stunningly gorgeous little girl; she ran up, paused, and then came right up to me and just hugged me. “Welcome!” she beamed up at me. Followed by “What is your name?” She was so loving and so pure. With her arm around my waist, and mine around her shoulder we walked out to greet the rest of the mob of the most adorable children I have ever seen.

As many of you know, I am currently in India serving with Rising Star Outreach working with those affected by leprosy. Rising Star does work in leprosy colonies, but they also work with the colony’s children. In fact, Rising Star’s facility houses about 200 children who live here the majority of the year receiving an education in order to help them break the cycle of poverty. It has been a wonderful experience so far which was only made possible with my most wonderful and generous sponsors. Thank you. I am truly grateful for your contributions. I hope you’ll find my posts while I am here warming to your own hearts as your contributions have brought love, service, and hope to many affected by leprosy in India. Thank you for being my partner in this endeavor.

Now: the day began with a two hour bus ride from Chennai to Rising Star. We drove along the coast for a time, then through a number of the most beautiful villages surrounded by rice fields and palm forests. Upon arriving we ate a divine Indian lunch—red rice and vegetables. After which we had orientation. It was fascinating to hear the history and the work that went into Rising Star. We learned of the hope Rising Star brings to these children. We discussed leprosy—I was shocked to learn that those with leprosy cannot even ride the bus, that is how discriminated against they are. Leprosy is a curse in India; it automatically makes one an outcast. Rising Star Outreach therefore works with those affected by leprosy to help break the cycle. One of the other wonderful things about Orientation was getting to know the amazing people who are also volunteering here in India. Boy are there some phenomenal people in this world. My cousins—the Bennetts—are here. They are so full of life and energy. Then my friend from my Israel study abroad is here for a second time and has been here all summer. She is truly the most beautiful person I know—inside and out. She loves more than anyone I know. There is a wonderful couple who are currently residing in Japan, and another couple from Baltimore. Carly Cook is here too—she went to high school with my younger brother. And my fiancĂ© Bryan of course who I’m quite a fan of. And so many more people—all who simply want to help others.

For our first evening we simply connected and played with the children. I played a rather tiring game of tag…for at least an hour with about 10 beautiful children. And let me tell you—humidity + heat + running = a whole lot of sweat! Luckily all of the women volunteers wear the traditional clothing which is a whole lot cooler than ours. I was in an orange and white top with white pants. They were so fun though: I would pretend to not be able to see them so they would sneak up behind me, I’d suddenly turn, and they would run away screaming and laughing.

At one point I noticed some shyer children standing off by a bench, so I walked over to try to connect with them. At first they all just kind of shyly smiled and whispered to each other. Then one of them came up with her hands behind her back and asked “Would you like a surprise?” Of course I answered “Yes.” At which point the cutest little girl pulled out “flowers” aka weeds as a surprise for me. Well, the other children around picked up on this and soon I was holding the biggest “surprise” bouquet of weeds I’ve ever seen. They loved it. Even the little boys brought me the “surprises”. I too decided to give them surprises, which they thought was most comical. One of the funniest moments was when this fantastic 5-year-old boy decided to give me a “surprise” rotten mango that had fallen from a tree. He laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I gave him a “surprise” rock and he thought that was even funnier. Too cute!

Eventually Bryan and I played a game with a large group of the children on the field—the name of the game I still don’t know. But essentially it is like dodge ball. Everyone starts with a foot in a circle, then you drop a ball, and whoever’s foot it hits is “It”. Then that person tries to hit the others. Once a person is hit they join the “Its” person’s team. Make sense? Well, I had no idea how to play and the rock landed on my foot first. Talk about confusing. Ha. They were all trying to explain it to me…let’s just say it took a minute…or two… But I loved every second of it. And the kids loved it too!

Rising Star supports keeping the children connected with religious roots so each evening they have prayer time with some of the locals. It took a minute to calm the rambunctious and most energetic children down, and to sort out who could sit on and by you (they all want to be next to you), but finally they began singing religious songs, and reading religious words. It was truly beautiful. Whether God, Gods (there are 33 million Gods in Hinduism), or any other belief there is nothing more beautiful than seeing children praise a higher power. Still they were somewhat restless at times—one particular kid thought it hysterical to pile gravel on my knee. I allowed him to pile it as though I didn’t notice, then when an appropriate moment came I would look down “shocked” to find anything on my knee. My reaction certainly made him grin.

After prayer the volunteers ascended to the rooftop for a dinner on banana leafs: red rice, sauce, fruit, veggies, and some kind of lentil flower cracker. It was all quite good. Part of the dinner ritual at Rising Star is sharing a high and a low for the day. Today the majority of highs were the first encounters with the children, and the low for many was the constant reminder of how much more each of us can do wherever we are and whatever our status. It was really quite a unifying experience to share those parts of our thoughts and hearts. Not to mention, something about serving and loving really seems to bring individuals together.

Dinner ended and the night darkened. The children are all separated into “Houses” which are essentially their dorms. Following dinner, we each were assigned to a House where we assisted the House Mothers (a native woman) with all of the homework and putting them to bed. Bryan and I were assigned to an all boys dorm which was so fun. I had such a wonderful experience as I helped two particular boys with their reading. They would take turns reading out loud to me. At first they would go along and every time they reached a new word they would not try but turned and asked “Auntie?” (they call all of the women volunteers auntie and the men uncle). They were slightly frustrated at first as I refrained from simply feeding them the word. I insisted they break the word apart and sound it out. They pulled out the puppy eyes, and the whining, but I stood my ground. Pretty soon they were working through every hard word. They are most capable little boys—both six—and both so adorable.

During this time it was also such a fun experience to watch as Bryan helped them with homework, played with them, and read to them. They absolutely love him. All are convinced he is a wrestler and body builder. In fact, he has been compared to a famous Indian boxer and called the Undertaker numerous times. Earlier when we were playing with the children outside, they loved having him spin them. He was definitely mobbed. He is definitely fascinating to them—6’3” blond Caucasian man: they don’t know what to do or think. But they love him and he absolutely loves them.

The children go to bed in three shifts—youngest at 8pm, middle at 8:30pm, and the oldest at 9pm. It was so fun tucking the children in. They all sleep on mats on a cement floor, and they loved getting a big hug and told “I love you” before they were put to bed. Bryan and I had a blast trying to figure out the routine as the house mother was pleasantly invested in reading her own book herself. The house mother is the sweetest thing thought—she is so young and apparently very new. When I was helping the boys with their literacy, she too would take me away from helping the boys to teach her the meaning of English words. Tonight I was able to teach her the meaning of the word “otter”.

What a beautiful day. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the many beautiful children that have already changed my life. In fact, I was so happy that I didn’t even think about the deadly and venomous cobras and scorpions that apparently line the path we walked back on. Needless to say, no matter where in the world one is children are pure, beautiful, and loving; they are the best teachers of acceptance and compassion. It was truly a remarkable day.

PS: Please forgive any spelling errors as I am tired so I don’t want to proof read this and my spell check is being funky. Much thanks.

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