Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life Dance

The Boys (Vignesh, Vimalkanath, Krishnamoorthy, Saranraj, Joseph, Naveenraj, Ismail, Ansari, Arun)

Just take a look at these names. It took me a good week to learn them. 

The Girls (Vijayalakshmi, Sangeetha, Theresa, Shalini, Paptha, Vinodhini, Ambiga, Angelai)


Welcome to Life Dance. This is an after-school club. I was the supervisor. We met 4 times a week and it was one of the best parts of the day.

What is Life Dance?

The following is taken directly from Promethean Sparks, the creator of Life Dance.

"Promethean Spark teaches life skills to impoverished youth worldwide through ongoing training in the performing arts. Discipline, focus, concentration, perseverance, self-esteem, responsibility and ambition. Teaching dance to youth in leprosy colonies in India, and in slums in Kenya is changing them from the inside out."

The children take their dancing very seriously. In fact it is the most prestigious student club. They work very hard and are quite disciplined. During my time here there was no instructor, so their peer leaders directed their activities.  Hopefully the organization will be able to send over a volunteer dance instructor next semester so they can continue further with their dancing.

We met in the dining hall, kind of the multi-purpose room for the campus. Notice how the girls dress. The red and white outfits are the school uniforms. The scarf (which is pinned on) is part of the uniform and no one would think to remove it.
The majority of the time is spent on warm ups, a quite extensive workout with stretching, yoga moves, aerobics and core strengthening. These kids are incredibly strong and fit. They love to dance. Their favorite singers are Michael Jackson and David Archuleta (Hard to put those two in the same category, but David visited Rising Star a couple of years ago and the kids love him.)

Saranraj, the strongest of the bunch
Saturday is "gymnastics day". The kids love to practice cartwheels, backbends, forward rolls, etc. It is hard to do much improving without a teacher.

 Here are a couple of videos.

This last video, though not that great of quality videoing is quite touching. The song, Somebody Out There is song by David Archuleta. He actually came and sang this as the kids did this dance. It is kind of their theme song. As you watch the group perform keep in mind that the majority of them have leprosy in their families. The words and actions together are quite powerful.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Colonies

Rising Star Outreach of India has as its main goal to serve the leprosy-afflicted in India. This goal is accomplished through several different programs.

First, a little background on leprosy in today's modern world. If you haven't watched this video, it gives the best introduction.

There are over 1 million cases of leprosy in India today. There are over 700 colonies where the leprosy-affected live. There is a cure for the disease. But due to the stigma attached to it, many do not disclose they have the disease until it is much harder to treat.

A typical sign to the entrance of a colony
Outside one colony. It literally is on the side of a busy highway.
Another colony is located in an isolated area.

A colony scene. Trash is everywhere in India, not just the colonies

a much cleaner scene

                    A typical wash day in India.
 I loved watching the little girls do their part.

 Many of the children of the leprosy-affected live at Rising Star where they receive an above-average education. But there are still plenty of children who live at home. Indians have a very strong sense of family. With many of them having lost most everything, including jobs, homes and friends when leprosy is discovered, their families become their most prized possession. It is hard for many of them to send their young children off to a boarding school.


Each day Rising Star sends out a mobile  medical unit to visit a colony. Many of the patients there need medical care, but are unable to get themselves to a doctor. Run completely by a team of excellent Indian doctors, the unit travels to the colonies and provides leprosy screening, medicines for treatment, wound and ulcer care, and medical treatment for non-leprosy related ailments such as TB, typhoid fever, and diabetes.

Typical community center where we set up shop

Some of our patients
More patients

1st stop - pick up your chart
2nd stop - blood pressure and blood sugar testing

Bandage removal
Washing Feet
The "nurse" takes care of the ulcers
Our own little pharmacy

At one colony there are two businesses which have been started which provides employment for the patients and their families. This is the Pearls With Purpose, a jewelry making group. There is also an art school and studio. It is amazing to see someone without fingers create a beautiful piece of artwork.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Church - Indian Style

I have been able to attend Church nearly every Sunday since I have been in India. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to get there, but it is worth the drive. Before my first visit I had no idea what to expect. I didn't even know there were LDS congregations meeting in India. I am happy to report that congregations are meeting all over India in an orderly fashion under the direction of 2 Mission Presidents, 1 Stake President and around 6 District Presidents. The information I found said there are about 10,000 Latter-Day Saints in the country.

                  Anita and I getting ready to head off to Chennai

                    Entrance to the Chennai Ward Building

India is predominately a Hindu nation with about 80% of the population. There are approximately 13% Islams and only 2% Christians. The Christians live predominately in the southern portions of the country. Chennai is in southern India, therefore you see signs of Christianity all over.

                          The Chennai Ward Building
                            3 Branches meet here.
Except for a 7 Star Hotel that I have seen, this is the nicest building in   Chennai.

Church is conducted in English. It takes awhile to get use to the accent. Probably about the time I leave I will have figured it out. There are a lot of full-time missionaries. They speak and teach in English, but with a Tamil accent. There are a large number of male members. This seems to be a little unusual as it seems there are always more women to convert to the Church. But because not as many women speak English, the men are the ones that lead their families into the Church. Most of the members are first generation LDS. I am impressed with their knowledge and commitment.

                   The Relief Society or Women's Organization

                   Celebrating the birthday of Relief Society

Relief Society is an interesting experience. Women in this country for the most part keep a low profile. But in Relief Society, with no men present, they come to life. There is much discussion and laughter. The lessons are all taught in a combination of English and Tamil. Some teachers are very talented in going back and forth without breathing or pausing. Today I was asked about how we "do" things in America. I said that for the most part they are running there Ward just like in America. It is inspiring to experience the early stages of what someday may be a really big thing. With 1.2 billion people, there is alot that lies ahead for the growth of the Christian community in this country.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Technology Trauma

So Anna will probably find this whole post ridiculous considering her current views on modern technology and our obsession with it, but here is my story......

The electricity around here can be crazy at times. Last week, in particular, it was going crazy. It would come on and off erratically.

My first incident involved my ipad (which I love). It was plugged into a power surge protector and then into the wall. Well, the power surged and out went the protector and the little white power adaptor that was connected to it. I then had no way to charge the ipad. But then I realized I could plug it into the laptop. I tried that and it worked, but incredibly slow, like hours, to recharge. So, it was inconvenient, but doable. I was worried however that there had been some internal damage as I couldn't believe it should take so long to charge through the laptop..

The very next day, the power surged again and out went the laptop adaptor. So Now I have no way to charge my laptop or ipad. But luckily, my next door neighbor just happens to have an adaptor that fits my laptop. Thank goodness for Erin, but I was worried about having to borrow it all the time for the next two months.

Two days after that, I am carrying my laptop out of our hostel over to the school. Our power was out, but there was power over there. The power cord was available so I wanted to use it then. As I was walking out, my feet slipped and down I went. As I was falling I realized something was going to hit the tile hard, either me or the laptop I was holding. So, the edge of the laptop hit first. Luckily the only damage was the little stick that was in the usb port (that is for the wireless mouse I use). I figured I can live without a mouse. But when I tried to use the touch pad, it didn't respond. It thought  there was still a wireless mouse. So, now I had a laptop that wouldn't work at all.

So, that was my dilemna. No laptop and no way to charge my ipad.

The solution:
Feeling like the ox was in the mire, I travelled to Chennai on Sunday. After dropping off  a group at the Church, I continued on to Express Mall. I should say our driver did all this driving and dropping off. At the mall, I was thinking I would probably be buying either a new laptop or netbook. I located the computer store, and with a bag full of all my damaged goods I entered. An hour later and only $100 poorer, I had new power adaptors for my laptop and ipad, a new corded mouse and a new power surge protector. I learned that recharging an ipad through a laptop is much slower than through the wall due to the low voltage. So, nothing was wrong with the ipad and fortunately I was able to plug a new mouse into another usb port to get the cursor to work.

So all ended well. I will not have to spend the next two months without email and facebook.

And they worked on the power and it is doing much better this week - Something about cutting back branches on the lines.

My purchase at the mall.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Day Trips

Most every Saturday the volunteers go on a day trip to a neighboring town. My first Saturday we went to Puducherry. The following Saturday we went to Mamallapuram.

Puducherry, also known as the French Riviera of the East is about a two hour drive from Rising Star. It sits on the south east coast of India, on the Bay of Bengal.

A little history: The French East India Company set up a trading centre at Pondicherry in 1674. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India. When the British gained control of the whole of India in the late 1850s, they allowed the French to retain their settlements in the country. Pudicherry remained a part of French India until 1954 at which time it merged with the motherland.

The french influence is seen in some of the architecture, little street signs that say "Rue ..." and the presence of the French Consulate. Puducherry is a popular tourist spot for national and international travelers.

 The local market
 My travelling buddies: Max, Erin and Anita

A highlight of the trip was a visit to an Italian restaurant and this Gnocchi Pesto and its accompanying Focaccia
A giant statue of Ghandi

Local Park
Bay of Bengal


Mahabalipuram was another day trip. It is about 1 1/2 hours from Rising Star. Mahabalipuram was a 7th century port city.  It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture wherein Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples.

We walked around and looked at everything. I'm not that into ancient ruins, but these were pretty cool.

Highlights of this trip included: purchasing new leather sandals, customed-made right on the spot, eating lunch at the 5 Star Radisson Resort and spending the afternoon at another resort pool, which included ice cream. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our Campus

Rising Star is truly an oasis in the middle of nowhere. It was built in the middle of a mango orchard. Rice paddies are all along the road leading in.
The road leading to our campus.
The campus is totally surrounded by a gated wall. It has its own source of electriciy and clean, drinking water. Wireless internet is also available. And it is far better than my ATT Lite. This is the entrance.
This is the school building. It is K-10th.
The pathway that leads to the volunteer housing. People buy bricks. There are many with David Archuleta or variations thereof from many of his fans worldwide. He apparently came to the campus.
Volunteer housing, aka, the Elephant House. This is where I stay.
My room. There are beds for 7. During busy volunteer periods they will all be filled. Right now I have the room to myself, though my roommate arrives tomorrow. Notice the A/C.
This is the dining hall. The children sit on the floor and eat with their hands. Rice (either white, yellow or red) is served every meal along with yellow saucy things served with it. Sometimes fruit. Everything has a kick to it. I think the serving dishes are lined up in order of spiciness. I stick with the rice and the first sauce. I eat breakfast and lunch back at the Elephant House.
The majority of the students live on campus most of the year. They have dorm style quarters with house moms residing with them.
The children love their play time. The boys play basketball, soccer and cricket. The girls play badminton and on the equipment. We've taught them 4 Square and Hopscotch.
There are several vans for the medical group that goes out to the colonies and several vans to transport volunteers to places. Thank goodness we are not driving. Driving is insane.