Park City Academy student volunteers in India
October 7, 2008
In an attempt to help promote the message of community service, Sydney Blake was given the opportunity to share a presentation with the rest of her school about a trip she and her family took to India this summer. Blake is an eighth-grader at Park City Academy.
Blake and her family spent 10 days in India as volunteers at Rising Star Outreach. Rising Star is an organization that was formed to help leprosy colonies in India become self-sufficient, thriving communities.
Blake said that the most amazing day for her was hygiene day. They went into Bethel Colony, a leper community of about 100 people, with a mobile medical unit. They cleaned the hands and feet of the leprosy-affected people, trimmed their fingernails and applied red fingernail polish to some of their fingers and toes. They also helped bandage open wounds, and doctors were available to meet with patients. Blake said that they want the leprosy-affected people to feel that they are contributing to their health, so most pay two rupees, which is about two American cents, to visit one of the doctors.
According to Blake, the hardest day for her mentally was helping teach the children English. Blake worked with about 10 students over the course of the day, spending about 30 minutes with each. It was challenging because each student reads at a different level, and Blake said it took her awhile to figure out how competent each student was, and then help them progress. She said that the children can earn more money if they learn how to speak English, especially with an American accent. "We all had a much greater appreciation for teachers after that day," commented Karen Marriott, Blake’s mother.
One of Blake’s projects was to teach the children how to make jump ropes out of rubber bands. She said that she wanted to help them learn how to make something they could use to occupy their spare time. Blake said that on the last day, it was really hard to say goodbye, because the kids really opened up their hearts to her family.
Amy Antonelli, executive director of Rising Star also shared a short presentation with PCA students. She spoke to the students in a slow, methodical manner, while she explained how Selvaraj, an old man came to live in the Bethel colony. One day Selvaraj noticed a white spot on his skin, Antonelli began. When he touched it, he felt nothing. This was the beginning of Selvaraj’s battle with leprosy. Because of his infliction, he was forced to leave his home and his family and live on the streets begging for change. After years of this life, Selvaraj found his way to a colony where Rising Star Outreach is located.
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Blake brought in a vibrant, yellow art piece that was painted by a leprosy-affected person. She explained how, since the painters’ fingers and hands were deformed, he had to fasten his paintbrush to his hand with a rubber band.
Antonelli recounted that the first time she went to India the leprosy patients were living in a gray, depressing environment that smelled like urine. She said that the art they produced reflected their environment and was dull and unappealing. One thing Rising Star has done is improve the conditions where the victims of the disease live. Antonelli said that, now that they live in a cleaner, more stimulating environment, it shows in their artwork, which has become much more life-like and full of color.
Blake added that after she returned to the United States, she decided that she would like to return someday to spend more time. When she returns, she wants to live with the kids in their dorm. Blake described the dorms as having rooms the size of typical American bedrooms, but housing 15 to 20 children, who sleep on mats on the floor.
Rising Star Outreach, which is located outside Chennai, India, was founded four years ago to help bring respectability to the leprosy-affected people and their families.
According to its Web site, Rising Star helps individuals and families affected by leprosy in three main areas, by helping to give children the skills to become productive members of society, by encouraging families to work toward independence by providing loans for small businesses and by addressing the physical ravages of leprosy on the body and screening for new cases with their mobile medical units.
Antonelli said that Rising Star gets more than 100 volunteers a year, most of them from Utah. More information can be found on their Web site at http://www.risingstaroutreach.org .