The world of leprosy in India

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine when I was growing up on a little farm in Montpelier, Idaho that I would someday be walking down the streets of a colony of people in India whose lives had been ravaged by leprosy!

The women above have been banished from their homes and sent to live in leprosy colonies in Southern India. Even though leprosy is not highly contagious and there is a cure, these people are living with the aftermath and are still considered “untouchables” which means they can have nothing to do with mainstream society and are doomed to a life of begging and charity.

An incredible organization called Rising Star Outreach started by Becky Douglas is beginning to change all that. Many of these leprosy affected colonies are served by this fabulous organization. Last year our son and his new wife decided that they were going on a one year Humanitarian Honeymoon directly after their marriage. They were both pretty burned out with demanding jobs in New York City. She was the international media buyer for Donna Karan for ten years and worked for Prada before that. They spent their first months in Mozambique and then traveled to India to spend several months at Rising Star Outreach. Richard and I joined them along with our youngest daughter Charity who is seen below with a man who has an incredible story.

This adorable man is 80 years old and has been affected with leprosy for most of his life. Although you can see his missing fingers, he is also missing his toes. In addition to that he was blind for 20 years. One of his eyes had been completely destroyed by leprosy but the other eye had a simple cataract that prevented him from seeing. A wonderful young doctor working for Rising Star Outreach took this man to a nearby hospital and absolutely demanded that they remove the cataract. Because he was an “untouchable” he had a fight on his hands but he won! The cataract was removed from his eye and for the first time in 20 years, he saw his wife, his children his home and grandchildren that he had never seen. The expression on his face tells it all!

Can there be anything on earth that can help more to appreciate the joys of your own life? What an experience was had with these people whose hardships were beyond belief.

Look at the beautiful hands on this women who was spared her fingers but whose feet were ravaged by leprosy.

And this sweet little woman has no fingers to cook dinner for her family or brush a child’s hair for as long as she can remember. The stories are heartbreaking.

Their homes are barely liveable.

And still, they continue to smile!

We quickly learned that the “untouchables” loved to be touched. They loved talking to us, even if they couldn’t understand the words. They could understand love and compassion.

The most amazing part of this story is that once a father or mother, grandmother or grandfather has been infected with leprosy the children and grandchildren of that family are also ostracized. They are not allowed into the schools and are destined for a life of begging on the streets.

While most of us would seethe with the injustice of it all, Becky Douglas went home and started raising money for a school for these bright and beautiful children whose only way out of poverty is education. After years of fundraising and countless trips to India, after organizing two dedicated boards of directors (one in each country) and with the help of a lot of wonderful people a beautiful school now stands on the Rising Star Outreach property in Southern India.

Do you think these kids are pretty happy? .

There is too much to tell in one post…in fact it would take a book to begin to tell the story of this amazing project (Becky is working on that). Two of our married sons and their wives just returned from the Rising Star School this week after installing a gift at the school from a wonderful company called Imagine Learning. Watch for the next post where we’ll tell you about the newest development at the school which will bless these children’s lives forever.

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