Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Cute Kids

The aspect about Rising Star that leaves the biggest impression on everyone who comes here is probably the kids. They are so loving, accepting, forgiving. As the coordinator of education, I help volunteers tutor these kids every day. I spend a lot of time with them. I often look over the playground or the classroom and think, "Where would these children be if they weren't here?" Since they're all from families that are somehow affected by leprosy, most of them probably wouldn't ever go to school because of the social stigma. Thanks to Rising Star, they are learning English from Americans, learning to use a computer, learning to read and do so many things that will help them have bright futures. 

Bhavana is perfectly shooting her hand up, as if to say, "I'm the girl Faith is going to comment on when she writes about this photo." She's so right. Bhavana is a brand new kindergarten student here who is SUCH a character. She's the one who doesn't sing the songs during circle time, but rather screams them at the top of her lungs as if she was screaming "FIRE!" She tries to trip kids as they run around the circle of Duck, Duck, Goose. She will pinch you to communicate since you don't speak her language. She'll steal your camera and run with it. But she also just steals my heart, somehow, through all of that.  Today, knowing she wouldn't understand English, I said to her, "You are the sassiest 5-year-old I've ever met." She responded with the only English response she knows (which happened to be fitting),"Yes."

 Also, a shout-out to the love of my life. Today is our 6-month anniversary. I'm so thankful for him and so thankful we're here together. He works so hard for others. He goes to the kids' hostel every night to tell stories to the little boys at bedtime. He spends hours planning and organizing to make this a good experience for the volunteers. On top of that, he spends time with me and helps me see through the hard times. I haven't yet witnessed an eternal honeymoon, but I have witnessed a 6-month honeymoon. I still have to pinch myself that I'm really married to Carson Ralphs! It's been 6-months of bliss. Our only argument is who is luckier, which is an argument I know I win.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Through the difficulties of living in India lie the golden moments. Most of them, for me, have to do with the kids. Moments like playing soccer with the 4th grade PE class and the Larson family, a sweet family of volunteers with three kids. It wasn't too hot, scores of dragon flies bobbed in the sky above the field, the kids (both American volunteers and the Indian students) were so happy, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. Those are the moments. 

Other moments are often during playtime (which is every afternoon for an hour). When a child runs up to you, calling you by name. When you look over a playground full of a couple hundred children squealing with delight and bouncing off the ground in sheer health and happiness to be alive. When you see volunteers and children playing so naturally together. When you see these two little boys on the swings crack up with laughter over their own jokes. 

The kids here may not live with their families, but their friends become their family. They are so close to each other, and you can see real love and care between them. 
 Two of our youngest volunteers, Brooke and Sarah.
 One of the most outgoing kindergarteners, Nitesh. 

Monday, June 22, 2015


Today after our rotations of work, we took a little trip to a nearby city called Kancheepuram. Many of the volunteers are leaving on Wednesday, and they wanted to see an elephant before they left.

We went to a Hindu temple, a sacred place where we had to leave our shoes outside (and pay a guy a few rupees to keep them from getting snatched). Although we went to see an elephant, we got way distracted by the monkeys on the outside of the temple. They were adorable! They were really eating bananas.

The elephant inside the temple walls was very well-trained. You go up to him, he takes your money in his trunk, passes it to the man beside him, then lifts his trunk to your forehead and "blesses" you. 

After a few people, they took the elephant away, so we didn't personally get "blessed," but no big deal, because we're already plenty blessed. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Healthy Rising Stars

Remember when you got your vaccinations to enter Kindergarten? If your parents were like mine, they made it bearable by telling you you would go out for ice cream afterward if you didn't cry. I only wish I could have offered the same bribe to these kids at Rising Star this week.

Over the past two weeks, we've been helping with the medical processes for the newly-admitted students, in addition to our normal projects with volunteers. It's pretty heart-breaking so watch these innocent kids bounce up to the medical center during the first week of school, then to see it dawn on them what's going to happen as they watch their classmates exit the room still hiccuping tears and telling everyone what happened to them (I assume that's what they're saying to each other--it's all over our heads).  Not even Duck, Duck, Goose and all the fun songs I could think of would keep them distracted. But, thanks to these vaccinations, they'll never get measles, mumps, OR rubella, and I think that's quite the gift.

We also helped give all the students at Rising Star de-worming tablets this week, did a lice treatment on all their cute heads (even though it's mostly precautionary, as none of us saw any lice) and participated in a talk about hygiene and another about first aid. We also helped with yearly physicals for all the standards.  I also accompanied all the new students to a nearby health clinic to get their blood typed.

After applying the lice shampoo, we wrap their heads in little towel turbans, and they have to sleep in it. They love it. 

A shout-out to our most elderly volunteer, Marie Jo. She's 71 but you'd never guess it. She was on the floor working the hardest during de-lousing treatment. She plays soccer with the kids (great goalie!) and never takes breaks during construction work. She's from France, and she's a huge inspiration to everyone here. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Our Weekend (June 6-7)

We went to a lovely place on Saturday called Pondicherry. The very name, being actually easy to pronounce, and giving you thoughts of cherries and lily-covered ponds, should make one want to visit. 

We went to the beach, hoping to swim. Most of beach is very rocky, but we found a little area by a dock that had a sandy shore. On the way, we found these cute goats. Although I've been taking goat photos, I haven't been posting them! Sorry, sorry!

 Goats, just like cows, are everywhere. And it kills me that I signed a code of conduct that includes not touching any animals. Most animals here I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, but this little baby goat looks pretty pure and irresistible--with his classic disproportionately-long legs.

 Indians swim so modestly, they put my "modest" one-piece swimming suit on the provocative side! They were swimming fully clothed here, so we did, too. Not as refreshing...but, when in Rome.
 We swam in the shade of this dock for a while.

Later that night, we went to the Saturday night movie night the Rising Star students have in their dining hall. They project a movie for all the kids who have earned enough stars (points for good behavior) to be eligible to attend. This is Subehda and me, she's in 6th grade. She's one of eleven children! That's pretty unusual for India. Most families I've observed have two or three children.

Sundays, even in India, are one of my favorite days. Today Carson played the opening hymn because the pianist was late, and we had a wonderful testimony meeting. A funny story....Carson bore his testimony and mentioned "my wife, Faith," and after Sacrament meeting a young woman who had led the music came up to Carson and said, "I had no idea you are married! I thought you were a bachelor!" I was in the bathroom soon after and heard her and her friend talking about how they can't believe Carson's married. Haha. I think they had a mini crush on him. Can't blame them. 

One testimony that stood out to me was a man who got up and said, "I am thankful that Rising Star exists. I recently watched a movie called the Pursuit of Happyness, and I know this is not a place to talk about movies, but it made me think about how many kids are on their own these days. In India there are so many children with no one to take care of them. Children don't know anything. They have nothing. They cannot be on their own yet. I am so thankful for the volunteers who come to help at Rising Star and take care of these children and teach them, and also that the Church helps to take care of children." 

I am thankful for the blessing of getting to know these children, too (although, let me clarify, they're not orphans. All of them come from families, but families that are in someway affected by leprosy, and thus these children would have few opportunities open to them). It's easy to see these 250 children, all dressed in their uniforms most of the time, their hair done exactly the same way, and think of them as just a mass of kids. But with effort, as we try to get to know each of them as individuals, hear about their experience here, their families, their hopes, their opinions, and get to know their very distinct little personalities, they become much more than just the swarm of "Indian kids" that perhaps most people see when they see photos or hear about "poor kids in India." They are incredible. I don't know how much we're actually blessing their lives, but I sure feel blessed to get to know them

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Carson's Birthday and Back to School

Monday, June 1, was a very important day. One of the most important celebrations in my book. The day one amazing man was born, Carson Ralphs.

I only wish it was easier to celebrate here. As it was, we had some Indian sweets, some homemade frozen custard, and went out to get Domino's pizza. That last part sounds so easy, right? What was intended to be a 1-hour excursion turned into 3 hours of miscommunication and the final arrival to a Domino's pizza stand that only sells personal pizzas the size of a bagel. Not quite sure if it was worth it, still. But all of us here are sure grateful for Carson and all he does for us! He's truly one in a billion.

That day we did some projects on the Rising Star campus, because the medical team was out on a three-day trip, and that was the day the 250 Rising Star students came back to campus after being away for two months. We raked lots of fallen mango leaves, and in the process found three small snakes. Carson killed them with his rake. What a guy!

So, as I said, the students are back! And boy, are they back! They change the entire feeling of this campus, in a good way. There are kids running on the track and playing on the field, filling the halls of the school, filling the dining hall we used to eat in by ourselves. 

 This is the dining hall. Watching a meal take place there is such a sight! They file in and sit in squares on the floor with their housemates (the kids are in groups of about 20 who are assigned to one house mother). One of the older kids gets the dishes of food for the group (which always include a gigantic bowl of white rice). The entire dining hall full of 250 kids bows their heads and recites a prayer, they say amen, and the air is full of happy chatter and eating within milliseconds. They pass around a pitcher of water for whoever wants some, and each just pours water directly into their mouths. Well, the little kids kind of put their whole mouth on it, and make us public health majors squirm a little, as if them eating with their unwashed hands after being in school all day and touching the floor before eating doesn't.  I suppose they just have immune systems of steel by now. As soon as they're done eating, they all wash their own dish. They only have one dish, because they don't use utensils. Everyone here eats with their hands.....except us that is. We ask for forks. I have no desire to eat with my hands.

They're pretty amazing. I'd like to see a school cafeteria in the U.S. where all the kids eat the same meal without complaining, and wash their dish afterward in a such orderly fashion. These kids also take their shoes off before entering their classrooms, and they don't just kick their shoes off into a heap. From kindergarten up, they very neatly line their shoes up in little rows in the hall.

As volunteers, we get to work one-on-one with specific children. Since they go to a boarding school and are always in large groups, they rarely get one-on-one attention. So we help kindergartners learn their alphabet, help 1st and 2nd graders read library books, have chats about values with the older kids  (today's topic was dedication in school; other values are things like honesty, service, etc.), help students of all ages in the computer lab do English and math programs, and many other activities.

We also do the opening exercises in the morning with the brand new kindergartners. We sing "Five Little Monkeys," "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and some other new songs we love like "Go Bananas." They're precious. We also have played Duck, Duck, Goose every morning, and you should see these kids when they get chosen as "goose." They hardly can contain their excitement as they try to get up and run. They often just run around in gleeful circles and completely forget to try and sit in their classmate's spot. So noncompetitive, such pure 5-year-old bliss. It's amazing how much fun we 20-somethings have playing Duck, Duck, Goose.

On another note, we're really happy to be getting red rice for dinner instead of white rice. It's a whole grain, like brown rice, but red.
This is a typical dinner plate. Dal over red rice, some version of a green bean, fruits and vegetables, and cooked potatoes. We really like it, but it's literally almost the same exact thing every single day. And to think all of India eats Indian food every day of their lives! Literally! We're just not used to eating the same genre of food all the time. Makes me so much more grateful for the variety we have access to. 

I don't have many pictures of relevant things, because when we're working with the kids I don't have time to take pictures. But I'll try to get some soon, because they're the cutest sight in their uniforms, flip flops, and little Rising Star matching belt buckles!

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