Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goodbye Weekend

It’s been a weekend full of good-byes. It’s hard to say them because it was not expected. It’s no fun to explain to people why we’re leaving a month earlier than we planned. Especially the children on campus. Some of them understand, but most of them don’t.

On Saturday we were so very grateful to have the chance to go to Rising Star campus and say goodbye to the students. We thought we’d never get to go back. We only had two hours, but that was enough time to take lots of photos and play with the children one more time. They are seriously some of the most precious, forgiving, accepting, fun, friendly, adorable souls ever.
 These two girls, above and below are Mariyam and Mymonisha. It would be hard to just pick one or even two, but if I could I would take these girls home with me. They are some of my best friends here.

This is Moosa, Mariyam's younger brother. They are both very caring, helpful, friendly, kind, intelligent children. I hope my children are like them!
Mithuna, Vana, and Sveta
I will especially miss the girls that I had a choir group with each Sunday. About 8 older girls would eagerly come to the music room of Rising Star’s school and we’d gather around the piano and sing Primary Songs, hymns, fun songs, David Archuleta songs, and practice the India version of our own national anthem—May God Bless India. I’ve never seen girls enjoy singing together so much. They would talk about choir with me every day during the week, so excited for Sundays. 

Today at church I got to do singing time with the primary for the last time. Leading singing time in the Chennai branch is a lot like leading singing time in my home ward, Sedona. About 8 kids (on a good day) and one or two who actually sing. I will miss going to church here.

 This is Kala, she works at Rising Star. She has two sons at BYU right now. She’s the kindergarten teacher at RSO and does an incredible job. She gifted me some earrings on Sunday. Such an impressive woman.

Raja and Ursula have been so good to us. They’re both return missionaries and are newly-weds even more newly-wedded than us!

We'll miss you, Chennai 1st branch!

Changes to the Rising Star Volunteer Program

First of all, I wish I had more pictures in this post, but the internet has been awful!

We had an amazing group of volunteers here for our Youth Session the past two weeks. There were about 20 teenagers here, every single one eager to help and make the biggest difference they could. A lot of them earned their own money to come, and it made their experience even more meaningful.

They tutored students who struggle at school.

They did construction projects on campus.

They treated patients at leprosy colonies.

Summer Stewart, from good old Sedona, Arizona was one of the most helpful volunteers ever! It was great having her here.

On one of their last nights here, the police showed up to campus on a routine surprise visit. The politicians around here don't help Rising Star out too much. I think they're bitter that their own children can't attend this amazing school, since it's only for leprosy-affected children. Anyway, they heard us Americans and wanted to see everyone's visas. We all have tourist visas, which is what we were told to get. One particular policeman decided to make a big deal out of this, and said that technically, on a tourist visa we cannot stay on the campus of an academic institution, nor can we participate in a volunteer program--we can only do touristy things. He ordered that all of us leave the campus. Thankfully the youth were able to stay until their original departure date on Friday morning, and after they left we coordinators also packed up and had to go to a nearby hotel. We are still staying at this hotel, and can only go on campus a few times a week.

It's a rough situation and no one's happy about it. A new group of volunteers arrived on Monday, July 20, and they will also have to stay in this hotel, which limits interaction with the precious students of Rising Star who need our attention. Please pray we can somehow return to campus!

In other news, on Saturday, Carson and I went on a real date! We saw Jurassic World  in 3D at an Imax theater in the Chennai mall. It was crazy intense, but so good! And, the awesome part is the tickets were only $2 each! For once, it was easy to stay under our normal goal of a $10 date. We also found a Subway, which really hit the spot after so much Indian food.

On Sunday after church, we were able to visit campus and see the kids! There are several girls I'm really close to that come to a little choir group I lead each Sunday afternoon. When they saw us arrive on campus, they came running and said their eyes watered when they saw us arrive, and they knew their prayers had been answered that we would come. It was so nice to see them after being gone a couple days, and to sing and talk together.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happiness is Not the Absence of Problems

All the volunteers from our last session left on Friday morning. With no volunteers for three days, we were able to all do a medical clinic, just us 6 coordinators. I love leaving campus and going out to a leprosy colony. Usually I work in the school every day, so I don't get much of a chance to see India and meet the people.

We went to a lovely colony, a row of housing that Belgium gave to India as a thank you for some relief India provided Belgium at one time.

Even though it's well-kept on the outside, the rooms are like any other housing: concrete walls and a concrete floor with metal-framed beds and maybe a 1-inch mattress on top. That's it. Nothing more. And we were all admiring how nice it is, compared to other colonies.

Anyway, the take away I got from this clinic is that we REALLY choose our own happiness. We met this man, Appu, who couldn't speak, but he could make sounds and, boy, could he smile! He never stopped smiling his biggest smile. He was so happy we were there. He wanted his picture taken, so here it is.

He is quite a dancer, too. After treating everyone, we played some music and the patients who can stand well started busting all kinds of moves! It's amazing how music transcends all language barriers. This man in the pink shirt, Yesu, doesn't have leprosy anymore, but he was sent to this colony by his own wife and children who didn't want to live with him after he contracted leprosy, even though it was treated early enough that no damage was done to his body. Very sad. But this is his home, and at least while we were there, he was happy, dancing his heart out.

There were several cute puppies who enjoyed watching us work.

My job this time was placing eye drops in the patient's eyes. Leprosy dries out the eyes.

Carson worked the  blood pressure station.

One of my highs of the day was how I sat down by this sweet lady after I had finished my job, and she threw her arm (and fingerless hand) around my shoulders. Who does that to a near-perfect stranger, who you can't speak with and get to know? These very loving, accepting, happy leprosy patients, that's who.

When the patients want to say thank you to us, they often put their hands together and bow their head, like they're praying. That's what this man did in this photo.

After leaving the colony, we visited an old hospital that now seems to be a nursing home for elderly people. They rarely get visitors, and were so happy to see us. They didn't expect us to give them anything, they were just so thrilled that we took the time to visit them. It made me remember what Mother Theresa said, that there is more hunger for love and attention in this world than for bread. They wanted us to take pictures of them and show them, to tell us things even though we couldn't understand, to show us their bed and their possession or two of maybe a soda bottle or a blanket. One man told us he is 87 years old and proudly showed us to put on his prosthetic leg. The other men watching almost looked jealous that he had something so unique to show us.

There was nothing in that hospital room but beds. No entertainment, no bingo, no movie night, no pianist playing in the lobby, no homemade cards on the wall from grandchildren, and no families visiting like you'd see at any nursing home in the U.S. But they were cheerful. They smiled non-stop at us.  It was hard to leave them, knowing they'd be back in their lonely state until who knows when.

I kept thinking how these people were once somebody's precious little child, and they're probably somebody's grandparents, but now they're just viewed as individuals in a nursing home. They are so much more than that!

I absolutely love going to leprosy colonies, because I always learn SO much from these sweet souls I can't even speak a word with. I hope that I can always remember them, especially during times when my natural inclination would be to feel sorry for myself or think I'm going through a tragedy I can't be happy through. If they can choose happiness with hardly any health, no acceptance, little mobility, no bank account, no hope for relief, no home of their own, no delicious food, and virtually no physical comfort, I'd be a weak soul to NOT choose happiness when I have all those things. 

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