Monday, July 12, 2010


A few pictures of the new facilities. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera when all the activity was going on. It was a beautiful day.

This is how the old section of the school and the new are now one!!
Shots from our beautiful new library. 1st grade class having library time.

Community Center - Volunteer Hostel
School - Back area, front, and interior lobby.

Dining Hall with decorations for the dedication. Kitchen area.

Dining Hall

Sunday, July 11, 2010


On July 10, 2010 we closed the circle on so much of what we spent two years in India doing. We had our formal dedication of all our new buildings and other improvements: i.e., water treatment plant (reverse osmosis), sewage system, front wall, playground, computer lab, library, Pathway of Hope, made possible by fans of David Archuleta, and our beautiful statue done by Angela Johnson in its place of prominence! (This was a story in and of itself, as we chose for the base a 2 - 3 ton piece of granite, to be cut, delivered and put in place. It reminded us of building the great pyramids, cathedrals, Taj Mahal,etc., with the giant blocks of stone!) The buildings included the Chris and Jessica Community Center (volunteer hostel), the new wing of the Peery Matriculation School, and the Dining Hall and kitchen facility. We all took a deep breath realizing how blessed we had been to bring the campus to where it stood on July 10, 2010. It was truly an auspicious day, with the elements indicating that all was right in the heavens.

We had well over 500 (including our children) present at the ceremony. The lunch that followed had been provided by our great friends the Marriott Courtyard, Chennai, for the VIPs and dignitaries who attended. (Probably 70-80 joined us for that lunch.) The parents and children were given a wonderful lunch in the mango grove, so the families could gather together, which is their most important activity on any Parent's Day. Everyone was happy. The ceremonies included the ribbon cutting on all the buildings, a puja (Hindu blessing), and the following morning, early, a formal dedicatory prayer in the new dining hall with all the children, staff and volunteers present, given by Ron. The children sang their beautiful Rising Star song written by Shaun Perry, as well as "I Am a Child of God" before the prayer. It was lovely. We all felt the presence of the God who made us all, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian.

The children sang and danced their hearts out, having been trained by two beautiful young women who work with Prometheum Spark in New York, and are here for the summer volunteering with Rising Star and creating a dance troupe with some of our children. There were plenty of speeches and much applause. Our great founders and mentors, Padma Venkataraman, Becky Douglas, Amy Antonelli, all spoke movingly of their visions for these people and their children whom we serve. Many thank yous were given followed by an honorarium of flowers and in some instances, a brick with their name for the new Pathway of Hope. It was moving and impressive. Everyone had worked so hard to be ready for this day, and our staff had really given all they had to make it perfect. The Hendershots, our directing family on campus, oversaw the final push, and the children, volunteers, and Indian workers had magnified their efforts to make it all come together. The Indian workers getting the landscaping finished had stayed and worked through the night for two nights. I'm sure the guy in charge made out like a bandit--hope his many wonderful workers got a piece of the pie!

Ron and I felt like we had had a baby--an enormous elephant to be sure--but it was so satisfying to think that from the day we arrived, July 15, 2008, to this day, we had actually been able to see the transformation and completion of a lot of what we had come to do. It was a true miracle to us!!

We feel that we have been so blessed to be here these past two years. We were given a gift far greater than any we could have left. The children will always be deep in our hearts, and we will never meet an Indian person that we do not feel a kinship for. This is a wonderful land and we have once again been taught about God's children, and His love for them.

God bless India as well as America!

(Images following on next post.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010


All my life I have been enchanted by birds. I would love to think of myself as a "bird watcher" but I'm not nearly knowledgeable nor committed enough to be called that, except at a very incidental level. It doesn't stop my fascination nor love of watching and occasionally identifying one of God's winged creations, however.

Here at Rising Star we are blessed to have very near us a wonderful bird sanctuary. It does not seem to be very well known (I have a hard time remembering it's name--Vedantangal), nor is it very well kept--I'm afraid that's India--but it's wonderful. The birds have returned, including thousands of painted storks, pelicans, ducks, egrets, herons, ibises, cormorants, and dozens of other species. They all live together on mangrove bushes that grow out of putrid-looking water; they nest on the bushes, and we have been privileged to watch the cycle of nest-building, egg-laying, and chick hatching. Then they leave (about April) and don't return until November. At the height of the breeding season there are up to 30,000 birds nesting.

You walk along a tree lined path, looking one way toward the birds, and the other at beautiful rice fields, with women planting and cleaning the fields, then heading home after a long day's work. We watched both--the sun going down over the fields and the moon coming up behind the birds. These are pictures taken last week. In addition to missing Rising Star and all the people when we leave, I will truly miss the birds.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's a sad day when you haven't posted in such a long time that you can't remember how to get into the system to do it! Just another MAJOR reminder of how badly behind on certain things in your life you are. Since I am now possibly the only one who needs or will read the end of the year wrap-up at Rising Star, I am going to try and give a picture of our last three or four months so that down the track I will remember. It has been such an incredibly busy time with with major steps in all areas of our program. Through the monsoon months, we managed to keep the building programs moving forward, and the children alive and mostly well--both good accomplishments! We completely turned the school program upside down, we kept our good doctor from joining a government hospital and leaving us, and we embarked on a major micro-lending program that has the potential to take us into the poorest states of India, across the country. We also greeted the Hendershot family, Steele and Sara and 5 young ones to Rising Star as the new managing directors. A bit of detail...

On the 19th of December, 39 members of the Patel family from Orange County arrived to inaugurate the CHRIS AND JESSICA HARRISON HOSTEL with a 5 day stay. As we all know, if you want to complete something you need to set a date for a major event: party, guests arriving, death to all involved if not completed, etc. None of them had made much of an impact on our builder in the 5 months since the building was scheduled to be completed, but with the Patel family (a wonderful Indian/American family who are major hotel owners in the U.S.) planning to be with us on a certain date it certainly spurred a few of us into even greater action. The builder was still invisible, but we hired our own people to work on much of the cleanup and finishing detail, and Ron and I went into "moving in" mode. We haven't done that for a while, as we have now been in our own home for 13 years, but it's still in the body when needed.
Literally, as the coordinators were picking up the family in Chennai with a large bus, and arriving on the property, we were doing last minute floor scraping and window washing, making sure all the new Marriott towels (ordered by the Patels) were hanging straight on each of the beds, and the food needed for their breakfasts was all in order in the kitchen. It was crazy, but except for the granite in the kitchen needing to be removed and relaid, the lotus pond needing to be sealed AGAIN in order to hold water, the roofing floor sealed and smoothed, we are closer to completion than we thought possible and we were able to play the smiling host and hostess that we wanted to be. The Hostel looked great--only a few of us knew of the unfinished parts (that is only sort of true, as the first morning they got up to bathe, there was only a trickle of water--hmmm... add water pressure to list of things to be worked on in January.) We were pleased with the look of everything, and think the Marriott family and foundation, whose monies generously paid for the volunteer hostel, will be pleased with the results. We have wondered over these many months where the contractors are that build the beautiful hotels in India, with finishing details as perfect as any you see in the world or in your own home, and an on-time philosophy ("On-time, On-budget") mantra guiding their actions. How naive we have been!

The school has had a busy and exciting few months. We received our matriculation recognition through 8th Standard in the fall, and that was part of the impetus for gearing up in a new direction. The syllabus for the curriculum in the matriculation program pointed out much of what has gone awry with Indian education. It is a rote system, no interactive teaching or learning, and from our standpoint BORING! Radhika Kannan, born and raised in California, teacher of Indian classical dance and educator in the California and Nevada schools came to us in June, anticipating a stay of 1 year. She had dance classes alternating with the Physical Training program, a 3rd grade English group, and 7th and 8th grade History classes. We felt by the end of the summer she was being underutilized. Our principal, Manjula, agreed and gave her the first standard class full time. The class blossomed. Soon, "centers" were appearing in the room and learning had taken on a new dimension. Other administrative changes took place as the fall continued, and as we moved into December the teaching was beginning to look a bit different throughout the school. In December Radhika was appointed principal for the coming year and a half. Manjula was made School Correspondent, a very important position in Indian Schools--she also is standing shoulder to shoulder with Radhika as this new program begins. A new era was underway. The teachers are becoming very excited about daily lesson plans, power point presentations, classrooms filled with ever-changing learning materials on the walls and in their lessons, and we haven't even gotten into January where the fun begins with exciting inservice challenges and materials. We've hired four new teachers with another outstanding one set to begin in June. The children's last exam period was condensed into one week (in India it is traditionally two weeks), but one exciting outcome was our housefather, Govendraj, tutoring the 4th standard boys in math, and all but one passing! There were about 5 that passed in the previous exams--it cost grandma a bit of money for ice cream, but money happily spent!! We look forward to a very exciting and challenging school year in 2010/2011.

Our medical program took on a new look. Our doctor, Senthil Kumar, had been offered a very lucrative position with the government including their paying for his post-graduate work in surgery. We were sick about the possibility of losing him, on many levels. He has lifted the work in the colonies to a new dimension with the self-help program that he and Karl Kirby introduced last year. Our population of patients was declining due to the incredible cure-rate of the most persistent and long-lasting ulcers. He has been recently married (a beautiful woman who is also a doctor) and her desire was for him to stay with Rising Star. Through a couple of weeks of negotiating, and against his parents wishes, he signed a new contract with us, and will begin in January with an outreach program that will take him further from our area of Tamil Nadu, both south and north, and possibly into Andhra Pradesh (a neighboring state.) He has the title of Medical Director, and the autonomy to direct others who work with the medical program. He reports directly to the Managing Director, and will continue with monthly reports on children problems and colony challenges. He is happy and so are we!

With Padma's visit to the U.S. in October, the micro lending program also took a giant step forward. We are officially a partner with a National Forum, known as Mithra. The Patel family gave us a wonderful gift just before their visit of $100,000 to be used for the micro lending program--that gave us the amount needed to complete our pledge. It is going to be incredible to finally be able to help those out of our immediate area--Padma has been so frustrated knowing there were so many others needing the kind of help these micro loans can provide. Padma's tour brought many blessings to Rising Star, but one that will affect the greatest number will be the funds generated for this micro lending program.

The Hendershot family arrived in November, and we all felt immediately like they had always been there. Their children and the Indian children had an instant love affair, and Steele and Sara jumped in with both feet--lice, snakes, lizards, frogs--nothing daunting. Steele will take over as Managing Director in the next few months as Ron and Joyce faze out. We love the family and can see them being such a great addition to the Rising Star family. Their young and boundless energy lifts us all.

Our trip to Stanford in October yielded such happy things for us--wonderful reconnections with some lifetime friends. It also brought to Rising Star gifts from some of Ron's fraternity brothers who became excited about what is happening in India, and a couple of their old contemporaries who are slogging through the jungle. We were privileged to be a part of our class panel, talking about what we are doing in India instead of retiring as we probably should. We thank our great friends at Stanford, as well as our tremendous Laguna Beach support group, who continue to believe in us, as we believe in Rising Star, and have opened their pocket books over and over as we needed some extra help. We can never express our love in the way it should be expressed to our family. Sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren have continued to bless our lives with their trust and faith, their support at home, and their continuing support to the children of Rising Star. Thank you, dear ones. The stars have always been in your crowns, but they shown very brightly these past 19 months. And dear friends, you have continued to write, to include us when we're in town, to care for our properties, to miss us. How blessed we truly are.

Future: We will return to Rising Star in Thottenaval village at the end of January, after we report in at the US Board meeting in Midway, Utah. We will not stay very long--we will continue to help Steele push to get the school ready for dedication, and then the dining pavilion usable for one and all. Steele is working on getting our accountant up to speed (as in the 21st century). The accountant (Purushothaman) said he felt such pressure, and Steele explained to him that a diamond is created from pressure--he said you will turn from a lump of coal into a beautiful diamond when you learn this new method. They all thought that was very funny! We will be in India for our Indian Board meeting the first of February, and also for the next school committee meeting. Such exciting things about to happen, I can't imaging not being there to be a part of it all in the coming months and years. It will be left in good hands, however: younger and stronger hands.

Happy holidays to one and all.

Pictures: India sky between downpours; welcoming sign for Patel family arrival; front view; our new elephant (we think of the hostel as the "elephant" house); courtyard with sky; Patel arrival; gathering for briefing in the courtyard; typical "guest" room. Our blessed Rebekah as Mary on Christmas Eve--we thanked the Lord for being home with family, even though half our heart is always left with our India family.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Rains Returned to India!!

What a long break from writing of our Rising Star experiences we had. If anyone is still out there reading, thank you for patience. We spent the month of October in the US--a glorious time split between Utah and Northern California, as well as our Laguna home. We had Padma, Becky and Amy with us for four days, when we first arrived. It was very busy and lots of fun. Utah included grandchildren visits, breakfast with the Gibbs, a visit with our former coordinators and long term volunteers, and President's Leadership Council at BYU. We had some good family and friend time in Laguna, and our 50th reunion at Stanford was not only fun, but yielded a couple of wonderful gifts from two of Ron's fraternity brothers for Rising Star. We spoke on a class panel and explained the Rising Star Outreach story, and many were touched. It's such a great story and we are always happy to tell it!

We returned to RAIN. November is monsoon month, with about 80% of the 55 inches they receive here coming in these monsoon times. We have cancelled sports day, two parents days, are celebrating "children's day" today in honor of Nehru's birthday but have had to go under cover fast three times so far. Assan Hospitality School is providing a feast for the children, and the food is coming out quickly before the next downpour. We did have three clear days this week and we took out all our clothes and bedding to hang in the sun for a few hours and try to dissipate the mildew odor. Things are growing in our shoes!

We have had some new challenges with the building projects, but slowly, slowly, slowly they creep forward. Ron and I will be here through Thanksgiving, and right up to Christmas as we have a large volunteer group coming the week leading up to the 25th of December. We also have discovered how quickly things go awry when we are not here--either it goes wrong or it stops!

Children are well--note their Christmas offering in the picture. Click on it and look closely at all the beautiful children. They are sending love to all of you. Everything is worth while when you look at the children.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Auspicious Weekend!

We had two amazing and joyful happenings for Rising Star Outreach this past weekend. It started on Friday, when we received a letter in Tamil from the State of Tamil Nadu's equivalent to our Board of Education. They notified us that after many months of paperwork, visits, pictures, more paperwork, and a lot of leg work, our application had been approved for becoming a fully recognized school in English Matriculation. We are now officially the PEERY MATRICULATION SCHOOL!! I equate it to a college or university going through the process of becoming accredited. For many of our parents, a big concern has been having their children study at a school that was lacking this recognition by the government. It is very important in Indian schools. Our challenge now, is following the curriculum that is required with the new status. This is now serious education!

On this past Friday we had a celebration with all the children, teachers, principal, and all the administration who had worked so hard to achieve this goal. We had a wonderful banner (two actually): one hangs at the front entrance for all to see, and another graces the front of the school. We had a few speeches and sweets for everyone. Just as we finished this short program, the skies opened and we had a huge deluge of rain. Everyone was completely soaked, but our very Hindu Purshotaman assured us that it was the most auspicious thing that could have occurred--it was confirmation of a blessing from above. We'll take it!! Ron and I appeared in our school uniforms (given to us by Lucy Williams and Matt Goodell), and the children were delighted. Ron looked especially cute--just like some of our boys. His shirt was two sizes too small, and his shorts about 3 sizes too big around the waist. Of course, his socks were a bit droopy--that's the way we wear them.

On Saturday of the same weekend, we had our Board meeting with the Indian Board at the Courtyard Marriott in Chennai. One of our Board members is Rajeev Menon, AVP for Marriott over India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Rising Star Outreach is the Marriott hotel's charity in all 10 of their hotels in these countries. For 6 months envelopes have been in all the rooms of their hotels that explain Rising Star's mission and making it convenient for hotel guests to donate if they wish to. Also at checkout time, guests are asked if they would like to contribute rs100 (about $2.00) to be added to their bill. With hotel occupancy being down 40 - 60% these past months, they still gave us a check from these donations for 10 lakh--$22,000! Marriott is building many new hotels as we write, with a beautiful new JW Marriott to open in Chennai a year from now. This can only get better. We feel so blessed with the great help the Marriott's have given the program from around the world. The Marriott Courtyard in Chennai have truly adopted us, and bring such wonderful hope and love to the children and to others that we serve.

Pictures: 2 new students of the 4th Standard; official banner announcing in English and Tamil our receiving school recognition; Karen Berry (Courtyard Marriott General Manager), Joyce, Padma, Rajeev Menon, Ron; some of the staff of the Courtyard Marriott and Board members, as we received the award and had pictures taken for local media coverage.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where does the time go??

Is there anyone out there left to wonder if we are still in India or not? The answer is, we are still here and keeping very busy--no excuse, but the only one I have. Time flies--faster here, and we get further behind. What a busy three weeks we've had.

A few highlights: We had a wonderful puja at the volunteer block for the putting in of the front door frame. Who would guess that it was very significant to see that door frame put in with a blessing for the remainder of the building. Needless to say, we would just like to say that the building is completed, but we can only say that the frame is in, and we are continuing the process of completion, slowly, slowly.

One of our house mothers became engaged, and we were invited to participate in the ceremony: Ron spoke and I prayed. It was a Christian union, but I realized many things that I had associated with a Hindu ritual is probably Indian culture and not religious based. The celebration took place in a small chapel in one of the leprosy colonies where this housemother's family lives. It was a sweet experience.

Ron celebrated his 72nd birthday on the 1st of September--the second birthday he has celebrated here. My next one will be with family in the US, which I look forward to. Ron's was a grand event, with two cakes (one for breakfast) and a very large beautiful one for all the staff and the children in the afternoon. They do love birthdays in India, and of course they love the aged, and we are becoming that also rather rapidly.

We had a wonderful parents day the first Saturday in September. Always it is a happy day for some and sad for others who have no one that comes to see them. We try to keep those children busy by helping us with chores, but many times there are families from their colony who include them with their own children for food and a bit of loving. We did lose some boys that day, whose mother had decided they were falling too far behind in an English language school, and had decided to put them in a Tamil medium school. That was sad.

We lost one of our artists in the Bindu Art School at the Bharatapuram colony, but in doing so witnessed some great acts of charity by two of our volunteers. Arumagam had broken his hip and was finally admitted to the hospital that works with leprosy patients. For three weeks he languished, with limited food, no surgery, and no hygiene care. They finally discharged him, weaker, very dirty and smelly, covered with open bed wounds, and sent him back to the colony to die. We received a call from Padma Venkataraman asking if there were any volunteers who could go to the colony and help him. We had two with us at the time: Nicole Pryzbola and Tom Douglas. They took off immediately with bandages, washing materials, and food. They cleaned him as well as they could--he didn't want to be moved much because of the pain from the hip, and fed him a little. They returned for three days; they sang, he smiled and sat up a bit, he smelled better, they dressed his wounds and got him a bed pan-- and then he died. It was an incredible thing these two young people had done--they were truly angles of mercy. Their response was to thank us and Padma for the privilege they had been given to serve this man. That's the kind of volunteers we have here at Rising Star Outreach. A few days after he died, we printed out a picture of Arumagam, mounted it, and they took it along with a flower tribute to the colony, to pay their last respects. Many of the artists cried--I know Tom and Nicole also shed a tear. They were bonded to this dear man with charity, the pure love of Christ.

One amazing side note: last year Nicole's twin sister Megan came to Rising Star. She had written about many of her experiences in her diary, and talked a lot about one of the artists in the colony. She had taken a beautiful picture of him which she enlarged and gave to Nicole. It has been hanging on the wall in Nicole's room for a year. Arumagam was a very thin man, even when healthy, but he had lost a lot of weight in the hospital. She didn't connect him to her picture at first, but it turned out that the very man whose picture was hanging in Nicole's apartment was the one she was asked to administer to. I love these small miracles that we see here.
Pictures: puja for front door frame, housemother's engagement ceremony, Ron's birthday, parents day, Nicole and Tom at tribute for Arumagam, Arumagam painting.