November 14, 2018
Writer: Brandon Isle

“There’s a power within all of us to make a difference in the world.”

Becky Douglas firmly believes this. During a 24-minute interview, she mentioned it over and over again. Douglas is the founder and president of Rising Star Outreach, a non-profit organization with the mission of “Lifting those with leprosy” as its motto states.

The organization currently helps about 29,000 people affected with leprosy in 74 leprosy colonies – soon to be 97. The organization has a three-prong approach to helping the leprosy-affected through medical care, community development and education.

This outreach is possible through partnerships, sponsorships and donations. For example, for as little as $30 a month, you can help a leprosy-affected child gain a valuable education that can help them overcome the stigma attached to leprosy.

“Every child comes to this world with inborn abilities, and talents and skills and all they need is opportunity to develop those,” Douglas said.

Rising Star Outreach is providing a way for these children and their families to overcome stigmas and develop their talents so they can make a better world for themselves and those around them.

Rising Star Outreach

The charity was born out of tragedy. Douglas is the mother of 10 children. Her oldest, who struggled with bipolar disorder, took her life. While going through her daughter’s things, Douglas learned she had been donating some of her college money to an orphanage in India.

Listen to our interview with Becky Douglas from 2016

Instead of flowers at her daughter’s funeral, Douglas asked that people send money to the orphanage. That led the orphanage to put Douglas on its board of directors, which prompted Douglas to visit the orphanage in India.

While in India for the first time, in 2000, she was heartbroken as she learned millions of people are affected by leprosy. When she returned to the United States she gathered some close friends and they “quietly formed Rising Star Outreach,” according to the organization’s website. By 2002 the organization received its non-profit status.

Medical Care

“To God, every life has equal value,” Douglas said. “Each one is one of his children.”

This year, Rising Star Outreach is set to give 40,000 medical treatments. Those treatments start with leprosy screenings, 10,351 in 2017. A multi-drug therapy can cure leprosy and with early detection, the disease is stopped before it deforms the body.

For those who already suffer from the deformities, Rising Star Outreach partners with hospitals and provides surgeries, especially eye surgeries, along with limb reconstruction surgeries and artificial limbs.

“As long as they have open, gaping wounds, they will never be accepted into society,” Douglas said. “Society is afraid of them. If we can get them healed to the point where they look as normal as possible then they can actually become part of society.”

Community Development

Rising Star Outreach helps lift people in colonies through its community development program, which facilitates a micro-finance program to help individuals in the colonies start businesses.

The organization’s director in India, Padma Venkataraman, will go into a colony and organize a group of about five women to manage the loan program. The women will put in 10 rupees a month (about 14 cents in U.S. money) out of their begging money. Once they have enough, they will loan the money to one of the women to start a business.

“Since it’s their money, the pressure to repay the money is huge,” Douglas said. As the money is repaid, more women are able to take out loans and start businesses. “Before long those five women have more money than anyone in the colony.”

Douglas says the average micro-business makes between $100-$500 a month instead of the average less than $20 a month they received through begging in the streets.

When Douglas first went to Chennai, India, there were beggars everywhere.

“When you go to Chennai today, you can be in the city for a week and never see a single leprosy-affected beggar at a stop light, so change is possible,” Douglas said.

The micro-loans don’t just go to women. Men can receive loans too, but there are restrictions. If a man beats his wife or is known to rape anyone in the colony they are not allowed to receive a loan. “It’s creating, believe it or not, happier marriages in the colonies,” Douglas said.

There are now colonies where nobody begs because they all have businesses. There are currently 101 micro businesses and there is a 97 percent repayment of micro-finance loans.

Education

“We were just so distressed when we first started going to the leprosy colonies because every time we went there were kids just languishing in the colonies and unfortunately their parents use them as beggars for the simple fact that people tend to give more to beggars that are children than they do adults,” Douglas said.

That’s why Rising Star Outreach decided to create schools. What started as a small preschool has grown into a 16-acre campus that educates 350 children of all grade levels. Another 800 children are educated using a perpetual education fund. Douglas explains that it costs $60 for children to go to a public school each year. It’s money for uniforms and books. They will loan families that money and the families will repay it throughout the year. Then the next year they take out another $60 loan. Venkataraman came up with the idea because she believed that one $60 loan, if repaid each year, could get a child through 13 years of school.

Douglas said they tried it out for five years with 200 families. After the five years, they checked the records and every family had repaid their loans.

Rising Star Outreach is about to finish building a new school that will educate 600 students. Between the two schools, two preschools and the education loans they will be educating about 2,000 students.

“Now for the first time we have graduates,” Douglas said. This year there are 54 students in college and by next year it will be 127, according to Douglas. The graduates are going on to medical school, engineering school, nursing school, law school and other pursuits.

“So we have kids studying all kinds of amazing things,” Douglas said. “These were kids who couldn’t read or write their name in any language when they came to us, at any age.”

Douglas says through their schools they are already seeing a change in the attitudes of India. She hopes to have schools all over India and graduating thousands of students each year, “And if that’s the case, people’s idea of leprosy is going to change drastically,” Douglas said.

How You Can Help

One of the main ways people can help is to sponsor a child. Each student is sponsored by four families. It’s $30 a month to sponsor a child. The child writes letters or emails to their sponsors and sponsors write back or they can send gifts. They can now also Skype. “There’s becoming this beautiful little bond that’s growing up between the sponsors and the children,” Douglas said.

Douglas says you can also donate directly to Rising Star Outreach. She says she’s heard stories of American children who forego birthday or Christmas presents to donate to the charity. “Your kids will begin to get a sense of the power they have to make the difference in the life of another kid somewhere in the world,” Douglas said. “It’s really interesting to see how much children are willing to sacrifice for another kid, really, believe it or not, more than adults normally because they get it.”

Douglas says this sponsorship goes beyond helping the student, it helps their future families. “You’re not just lifting one person, you’re lifting generations,” Douglas said.

Click here to learn more about sponsoring a child. There are also volunteer opportunities and corporate sponsorships available. For more information on corporate sponsorship, you can contact the Rising Star Outreach office at 801-820-0466.

You can also choose Rising Star Outreach as the charity you support when you buy things on Amazon.com. Just use the website https://smile.amazon.com/ and make your selection Rising Star Outreach.