Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sponsor a Child at Rising Star Outreach

We have now been at RSO for four weeks and have loved getting to know the children. As you have seen from our previous pictures, they have bright smiles, radiant personalities and sparkly eyes that make our hearts melt.
The other morning we had little Archana come up to Anita while we were eating breakfast. (See below)


Archana was starved for affection and hugged Anita for about 15 minutes. It reminded us of the effects of leprosy and how, for so many generations, leprosy affected people were shunned by society both physically and emotionally. Additional effects of this segregation were, and still are, poverty and low education. As a result of Rising Star Outreach, this stigma is changing for some of these leprosy affected children in India. Here, the children are not only loved and cared for, but are also becoming well educated and responsible which helps them to be able to break this cycle of leprosy. But, as with most non-profit organizations, without the help of people like you and me, Rising Star Outreach would not be able to provide all the education, housing, food, love and care to the 150 children that currently are under their jurisdiction.

We have decided to write this blog post about how you, our friends and family, can help a child here at RSO. If you are looking to give to a charity, there are of course many options worldwide, but we thought that our first hand experience here at RSO would give you some confidence that your money is going to the right place.

Rising Star’s sponsorship program makes it easy for you to make an impact. To see how it works, take a look at the RSO web site under “sponsor a child”, There, you can see short bios of each child that is in need of a sponsor and then choose which child you would like to sponsor. The bios are fun to read and the current Sponsorship Program Director (Kristen, our neighbor at the Volunteer Hostel) does an excellent job. She is a natural with the children and the children love her. She knows each child personally and has written some great bios that really capture their personalities.

The cost to sponsor a child is minimal. It’s $30 per month/child and it covers all expenses from education, to food, to housing, to transportation, to supplies, etc. of that particular child.

The great thing about sponsoring a child here at RSO is that you will have a personal relationship with one of these children. The children are asked to write one letter every quarter to their sponsors while, you, the sponsor, can write whenever you please. This can be as rewarding for those that sponsor as it is for the children that receive the donation.

You can decide on the length of your sponsorship. The donation occurs on a monthly basis, but the ideal length of a sponsorship is a year or more. That way you can truly make an impact on their lives. You may like the program enough that you continue your support of the child you sponsor until he or she graduates RSO (around the age of 18).

Here are some recent pictures of the children at RSO…

Below is a picture of Rosemary, Tamil Selvi, and Ramya


Below is Ramya on the left and Sathya on the right


Sathya, the taller girl, LOVES Tal because he teaches her to play basketball. Little Rosemary is also hanging out with Tal.


The guy in blue Jazz jersey, Sathish, is the oldest on campus. He is a responsible young man and has a nice jump shot.


Below are the three Anita’s here at RSO. I don’t know how many times I have heard in India “Your name Anita? Anita Indian name!!” I am happy to know that wherever I travel, Anita is a common name of that particular country.


The two trouble makers at school. On the left is Moorthy and on the right Kanmani. But they are so cute you would never believe it.


Mymonisha, seen below, is always eager to chat with us.


Christraj loves the phone!


Let us know if you have any questions regarding the sponsorship program. Don’t feel pressured in any way, but if you have been looking to donate some money to a charity, we thought RSO may be what you are looking for.

Let us know if you do decide to sponsor because we would love to keep you updated from our perspective.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anita’s Birthday


And I swore that this blog would never be about “me”, but rather about the experiences we are having on our adventures. So with a title like this you may wonder if we will start deviating from what we set out to do – to inform you of our travel/volunteer work.

BUT….these children here at RSO are so cute that this entry is almost a must. And to be fair, Tal suggested this blog entry. So…on Wednesday I turned one year older and as many of my friends predicted, this birthday will be one of the most memorable.

The excitement started on Monday as cute little Mariami (see picture below) came up to me, with a beaming face, saying. “U birthday on Wednesday?” and followed by “me too!!” and then an even bigger smile that reflected her deep joy.


On Wednesday she came running up to me first thing in the morning and all the children gathered around us. I look a little funny, but you can’t get much cuter than little Mariami. Also, I was handed two bouquets of paper flowers (see below).



Then another highlight of the day was that the RSO cook Padmini was making Dhosas for breakfast – one of my very favorite Southern Indian specialties.


They are so good, that they deserved a picture. Dhosa is the crepe looking piece, with a potato filling and the coconut chutney on the side.


The rest of the day was filled with teaching four classes, which all turned out pretty great. The children kept pointing out to me that it was my birthday, which was very cute.

For the later afternoon the volunteers and directors had the grandiose idea to head to town to get some ice cream as a treat. Ice cream is hard to come by in India and so we were all very excited. Here we are waiting to leave, spending again time with cute Mariami and her friends.


It’s hard to top a birthday where 100 children with deep brown eyes, fantastic smiles and a heart of gold congratulate you!! I will never forget it.

But of course this birthday would not have been half as special without Tal. He was so good to me all day and surprised me at night with a copy of the Hindu “scripture” called Gita, which I have really been wanting to read. And we had a memorable time up on the roof of our volunteer hostel, under a sky of brilliant stars (cheesy, I know, but very special and beautiful).

And yes it was Tal’s birthday last week also and we had a great day together as well. But he is truer to our blog mission and does not want to have it documented.

Teaching experiences



We had quite a good time teaching the 1st graders about responsibility today.  We used an old Joy School (Joy School is a pre-school that Tal’s parents invented) idea/teaching called “Gunny Bag”.  Gunny bag will eat anything that is left on the floor or is out of its place.  We will never forget all of the 1st graders scrambling around to clean up the classroom before Gunny bag ate it all.  It was really fun!

Below is Tal with the 1st graders after the hour of Gunny bag. I (Anita) will never forget these children run around in sheer excitement cleaning up their classroom, as Gunny Bag (Tal) was roaming the room growling hoping to eat anything that was on the floor. One girl, whose name happened to be Anita, was so excited, and scared at the same time of the Gunny Bag, that she was scurrying around with her arms stretched out and her big brown eyes and an even brighter smile. A moment I will hopefully never forget.


It is such a great experience to teach these classes together. Something we may never get a chance to do again. This was week one….with many more stories to come in the coming weeks.

Our responsibilities at RSO


Our main responsibility over the next two and a half months at RSO  (Rising Star Outreach) is to help teach responsibility and ownership to the 180 children at the school.  One of the biggest problems here at RSO is that the kids receive things and do not take care of them…  so our task is to plant ownership and responsibility in their minds.  We have already found that this will be no small task.  It involves changing the way the teachers, staff, and children think about their things, their lives, and their futures. 

We are currently interviewing and observing housemothers (the caretakers while the kids are in the dorms) and the teachers in order to implement a simple “Ownership Stars” program.  We will model it after Tal’s parents “family economy” system that taught ownership to his family as he grew up.  The program will allow the children to earn a star a day by correctly performing tasks throughout the day.  Some examples of the tasks are: getting to school on time, having good behavior in class,, doing homework, and getting to bed on time. 

These stars will accumulate in  each child’s individual “Star Bank” account.  The children will be able to save their stars, with incentives for saving, or spend their stars to buy school supplies, computer time, shoes, and even a trip down the road to get some ice cream.  

Our other responsibility is to teach the “Moral Science” class to each grade level (Kindergarden to 8th grade) every week.  This teaching started this week and most of the classes went… okay.  The third graders were very difficult while the 5th and Kindergarten classes were quite good.  We are teaching them about ownership and responsibility in these classes, which ties in nicely to our “Ownership Stars” program.  

Here are some pictures from our past week at RSO…

RSO had a “Sports Day” on Saturday (in honor of Tal’s birthday…ok not true, but fun anyway) and it went really well.  Many of the leprosy affected parents came from surrounding colonies to see their children compete in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races…



The opening ceremonies were intense.  They included a very focused, military style march with steps synchronized to the sound of a large drum.


A torch was even lit…


The races were quite competitive…


We have found that being a teacher is really hard work!  We were exhausted after the first three classes.  Here is Anita giving some instruction…


All of the children now call her “Auntie Anita”.


This is the Kindergarden class. Luckily we get the help of the regular teachers Kala and Shama, who translate for us every now and then, as the children do not understand everything we say in English. And our Tamil is pretty much non-existent.


Lunch… This is a typical scene as the boys gravitate to Tal and the girls to me.

tal with RSO Kids

Walking to Lunch…


We took some time one morning to visit a local bird refuge and we had never seen so many large birds in one place!  To be honest, we thought it was beautiful but a bit overwhelming…




My dad was quite intrigued by the birds and we liked his observations.  He thought that storks and pelicans were named well… they really fit the look and sound of their given names.  He also observed, “storks are clumsy on the ground, but are quite the opposite in the air”…



Anita was slightly overwhelmed by the masses of birds so she took some time to walk to the edge of the refuge to see the quiet rice fields…

Anita in Rice

Not a bad idea by Anita because those rice fields were beautiful…


This was our beautiful pathway at the bird refuge… rice fields on the right, masses of large birds on the left…


In the meantime, my mom could not get a good picture of a monkey.  She must have tried 10 times, but the monkey would jump back on the roof before she could get a good shot! We thought it was pretty funny.


It was so much fun to have my parents here for the past few weeks.  They were able to really help RSO with some some great ideas, books and teachings.  We loved having them around! 

fam at RSO

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rising Star Outreach


Rising Star Outreach (RSO) focuses on a variety of areas, but, from our observations thus far, everything revolves around the 180 children that are cared for at RSO and attend the Peery Matriculation School.  Most of these children come from leprosy affected parents and have been given the chance to come to RSO and attend this school to break the cycle of poverty and begging that their families and ancestors have had to live with.  

Just as an FYI here are some facts on leprosy:
- Leprosy is an ancient deforming disease caused by a bacteria and exists to this day in many parts of the world.
- It is commonly believed that any exposure to leprosy affected people can cause transmission. This is not true because the overwhelming majority of people are not susceptible to leprosy and will not develop the disease even after extended exposure. Much is being done worldwide to educate the general public on this fallacy.
- A multi-drug treatment, which stops but does not cure leprosy, has been introduced over the past three decades. This development has not eliminated leprosy, but has drastically reduced the effects of the disease.
- For more information on leprosy in India please visit:

In the below picture Anita is with Nary and Agnas Mary, two of the many adorable girls at RSO. These children, boys and girls alike, are the highlight of our day. We cannot resist their beautiful dark brown eyes and their most amazing smiles. There is happiness written all over their faces, even though their lives outside of RSO do not always reflect that. We feel immensely loved by them and enjoy being in their company.


Below is Tal’s mother in front of the children's dorms.


A regular dinner scene. These little boys eat twice as much as we do and you would never be able to tell.


Below is the daily morning assembly, which is held at the school.  The wing on the right is completed and RSO is building another wing on the left.


This is a math class that we were able to attend and observe from the back row…


Linda teaching a class to the 1st graders.  Don’t they look so well behaved? That can be very deceiving and we have increased respect for any teacher that can discipline and teach any group of children.


Tal’s parents taught a class while they were here for a week… The children loved Rick telling them stories about animals and their behaviors. I (Anita) was spellbound as well.


Below Rick performs his hugely popular “take off the thumb” trick…

Dad with RSO kids

A beautiful computer lab…


This is a common view that we often see as we go running in the morning…


There are two families that direct the work at RSO. They live on campus with the kids and teachers.  We have really enjoyed being around both of them and are so inspired by the sense of adventure and just taking off and living in India with their families.

Steele and Sara Fam

Greg and Rachael Fam

In order to keep with Indian custom, Anita gets to wear this cool outfit called a Salwar.  It is mandatory for all women at RSO to wear either a Salwar or a Sari and Anita isn’t complaining because it is comfortable and cool.


This will be our home for the next few months.  We were blown away by how nice our accommodations are.  The volunteer house was completed in December of last year so we are among the first occupants!


It was so nice to walk into a very clean volunteer Hostel, which has to be some of the best accommodations in the volunteer world.


We went to a leprosy colony last week and here are some pictures from what we experienced… 


The streets were paved and every house had been donated by a Christian church.  It is hard to explain the experience so we will just show you some of the pictures…


Dr. Kumar is a wonderful doctor that visits hundreds of Leprosy affected people every week.  Fortunately, he had the help of two nurses for the past week which gave him time to explain each patient’s story.The stories were fascinating and inspiring.  My mom documented some of the stories in her blog.  If you would like to read more about our visit to this colony, please visit:






In our next blog we will tell you more about what our responsibilities are while here at RSO.