Disadvantaged children growing and learning in a safe and healthy environment

What Have We Accomplished?

We have come to the end of our year. It has been both an honor and a privilege to work with the wonderful faculty, staff, and kids of Rising Star Outreach and Peery Matriculation School for Rising Stars. Gordon has served as school principal and school director. Vickie has served as hostel warden, medical clinic aide, and assistant to the doctors for our leprosy colony medical outreach. Let us share these last few photos and some thoughts about our year.

What have we accomplished? We taught and learned and held nighttime homework sessions in the cool outdoors.

We hosted families for Parents Day on the first Saturday of each month.

We provided medical care, even when there was no electricity.

We played together, especially cricket and football.

We ate together.

We got to know and love our village neighbors.

We made many wonderful friends of all sizes.

And we learned to work together.

So now it's time to say goodbye. Vickie and I will go back to America and the kids will go home to their parents and grandparents to enjoy a holiday and prepare for another school year. It has been good. Perhaps we have done something useful. We hope so.

We love you, Rising Stars.

Vickie Bathes an Elephant

We visited Kerala's beautiful Malabar Coast for a few days. Kerala is the narrow strip on the west of the tip of India, next to Tamil Nadu, known for its scenic backwaters and mountainside tea plantations. We stopped by a mountain river and Vickie helped the elephant handlers give morning baths. She is using a chunk of coconut husk to scrub as the big animal lazily enjoys its morning pampering. You can hear me conversing with an English couple.

Beautiful Birds of South India

We live near a national bird sanctuary called Vedanthangel. January and February are the best months for viewing a wide variety of large water birds that winter in the area. Nesting residents of the sanctuary include the grey pelican, night heron, open bill stork, little cormorant, spoon bill, white ibis, and darter. We visited in the late afternoon and saw the birds come in to roost in the evening light. It was breathtaking.

The trees and bushes seemed to be growing right out of the water. Here a group of painted storks stay close to their nests.

These videos show painted storks in flight. I wish we had a better camera so you could see just how gorgeous they were in the late afternoon light.

In the Steps of Thomas the Apostle

Chennai is the home of the St. Thomas Basilica and two of the places where tradition holds that he taught the Gospel and established the Church in India. A Syriac work entitled The Doctrine of the Apostles, dating from the 2nd century A. D., records that the faithful received "what had been written by James from Jerusalem and Simon from the City of Rome, and John from Ephesus and Mark from the great Alexandria, and Andrew from Phyrgia and Luke from Macedonia and Judas Thomas from India. . ."

He began his work on the Malabar Coast in western India and later traveled to the Coromandel Coast where we live. There seems to be a lot of documentation from the early days, Catholic and nonCatholic, Christian and nonChristian, to support the tradition of Thomas' evangelical work in India.

We spent one Saturday visiting the sites and getting the story. First we visited St. Thomas Basilica, then the "little mount" where he lived and preached the gospel, and then St. Thomas mount where he fled persecution and was martyred.

Vickie at the entrance to the basilica. "Basilica" means palace and this is one of three in the world commemorating burial places of original apostles. Peter's is in Rome, of course, and James' is at Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

There wasn't enough room across the street to get a full photo of the front of the basilica, so this quarter hind-view will have to do. It really is a magnificent structure, modeled after the great European cathedrals, as you can see.

The interior of the basilica, looking at the altar and the crucifix. The photo was taken standing by a glass inlay in the floor that looks down on his original tomb where several relics remain buried. The body was later exhumed and moved to Edessa, a crusader town in Greece.

Next we visited the little mount. The two small chapels were built by the Portuguese in 1551, the larger on the left is a modern construction. The one on the right in back sits over the cave wherein Thomas lived and the area where he sat and preached to the locals. Behind it lies a spring which, according to tradition, he miraculously opened to provide water for his thirsty listeners.

The cave in the little mount where Thomas lived until threats of violence became serious and unavoidable. One worshipper kneels in prayer, seeking divine intercession. The granite room is about 15 x 18 feet.

Tradition holds that Thomas carved this cross in the stone above and outside of the cave. It has obviously been adored by many pilgrims through the years.

Off we went from the small mount two miles across town to St. Thomas Mount, where Thomas fled to escape persecution. The snack shop on the left is called Mount Manna. Of course it is.

The shrine of the crucifixion on the Mount. Several of the faithful were there when we were, even though it was a very hot Saturday afternoon. This was where St. Thomas was martyred by a Hindu war lance at the urging of ministers to the king stirred up by local brahmins. The story is that he began his ministry in India in 48 AD and died in 72 AD.

I have no idea.

Three sainted ladies gather on the Mount: Mother Joyce, Mother Teresa, and Mother Vickie.

The convent on St. Thomas Mount maintains a foundling home. The babies are referred here by health care providers and social service agencies. The wee ones are well cared for by the nuns and are available for adoption within India by those who meet the criteria. We enjoyed a nice conversation with the gentle sisters in the information center/gift shop. You see Chennai in the background, looking toward the Bay of Bengal. Altogether is was an enjoyable and informative day.

Rising Stars

The whole purpose for our school's existence is to enrich the lives of children from several leprosy colonies. Many of these children are first-generation students who are the only literate ones in their families. Some came to us at 8 or 10 years of age having never been in school. We love them dearly and we believe that their future is certainly brighter because of the opportunities provided by the generous supporters of Rising Star Outreach. Take a stroll with us and meet our dear and delightful Rising Stars at work and play.

Upper-grade students march with the school flag on Independence Day.

Beautiful girls show off their finery.

Mangai and Marriambee show some love on Republic Day.

Boys check the pepper plants to see if they are ready for transplanting.

5th Standard girls dance for the glory of India.

Devaraj and his friend standing tall, looking good.

Shalini and Vijayalakshmi make a presentation for Independence Day.

Vaccination day: Is Poongavanam smiling or gritting her teeth?

Arokiamary performing at our Christmas program.

Two kindergartners fascinated by a wristwatch

Super heroes on guard at the school

Upper-grade girls take their turn at weeding the pepper patch.

Sathya, Monika, and Jiveetha watch classmates practice for a program.

Teresa performing traditional Bharatanatayam dance.

Two happy boys take a break in the shade.

Mahalakshmi, Teresa, and Vigneshwari show the school flag.

What Does Gordon Do?

Our purpose for coming to India is for Gordon to complete a one-year professional development leave from Brigham Young University. His work centers on teaching English as a second language, but he has also served as the director and principal for Peery Matriculation School for Rising Stars. The great relationships with our village and the leprosy colonies that house our students' parents and grandparents have been wonderful added benefits. Here are a few of the activities in which Gordon is involved.

Working on the school veranda, much cooler than the office

Raising the national flag on Independence Day, the anniversary of India's break with the British Empire on 15 August, 1947

Speaking as school director on Republic Day, commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of India's constitution on 26 January, 1950

Making new friends at a Hindu festival in Paranur leprosy colony

Presenting appreciation gifts to commemorate Teachers Day

Walking to school with friends

Relaxing with students Moorthy and Karthik

Calling on the village leadership. This woman is the president of the panchayat, or governing council for five villages. Her husband is the local leader of the state's largest political party.

Eating interesting food

Helping a village family find a school for their daughter with special needs. It was a sorrowful day when Gordon, a special educator, had to turn them away from our school for lack of appropriate services. But we were blessed to find a good place for her, and the future looks brighter.

Placing a brick at the groundbreaking for the school addition

Presenting well-deserved awards on our annual Sports Day

Working with a small group of lower-achieving students

Visiting friends in the village