What could be more life-changing for two Eden Prairie High School students than a family vacation to India working intimately with people afflicted with leprosy.
Jake and Madie Ward returned to school this year with a whole new perspective on life. What could be more life-changing for two Eden Prairie High School students than a family vacation to India working intimately with people afflicted with leprosy.
Marianne and Rick Ward are the parents of Jake and Madie. Rick is the manager of a Bond Trading Department at Wells Fargo Bank. Marianne is a stay-at-home mom who formerly worked in Washington, DC for the U.S. Senate and the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.
Marianne and Rick were looking for an opportunity to do humanitarian service in a third world country with their children. The Wards are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Marianne was particularly excited when she found Rising Star Outreach on the internet. It was founded by Becky Douglas, also a Mormon.
Rising Star is a non-profit organization serving people afflicted with leprosy and their families in southern India. It functions with a staff of long- and short-term volunteers. On their website www.risingstaroutreach.org it states, "India is hot, dirty and hard. Be prepared to work." It was the perfect match for the Ward family!
Before leaving for India, the Ward family was meticulous in planning their trip, getting thorough physicals, immunizations, and malaria pills. They learned all they could about leper colonies in southern India, but they were not prepared for the reality that hit them.
The Wards flew into Chennai on August 4 where they spent the night at the Marriott Hotel-extreme poverty was everywhere. The next morning they were picked up by a van and driven to Rising Star, a two-hour drive from civilization. They spent the afternoon getting settled in the Elephant House where the volunteers live.
For breakfast and lunch, they were on their own. Milk, eggs and bread were provided but they ate mostly the food they brought with them in their suitcase. When dinnertime rolled around, the Wards found themselves eating on the flat roof of their house with the other volunteers-their dining room. A bucket of water was their shower; a hole in the bathroom floor was their toilet, "the squatty potty."
The food, the smells, and the clothes were all so different. Even the volunteers wore the native dress. In the morning the women and girls selected beautiful, brightly colored, two-piece outfits off a common rack to wear that day. The outfits are called chudidors. At night they were washed so they could be worn the following day.
The next day the volunteers were divided into two groups of ten each. The groups alternately worked at Rising Star's school-a school to educate children from families with leprosy-or they traveled with the Rising Star Mobile Medical Clinic to the leper colonies.
The Wards' first assignment was going to a leper colony. Each person had a job to perform when they arrived. Jake checked in patients and took their blood pressure and glucose. Marianne cut the gauze bandages off their feet. Then Rick washed their feet in antiseptic water. Another volunteer rubbed their feet with oil. The patients loved this! Then a nurse treated their wounds and wrapped their feet with clean bandages and a doctor examined the patients. Madie helped the nurses dispense medications, enough to last until the next scheduled visit of the Mobile Clinic (the Clinic travels to nine leper colonies, visiting one each day).
On the third day, the Wards worked with the children at the school. This year the school has 237 students K-10. The children board at the school and only go home for holidays and summer vacation. After 10th grade the children test to either go on in the school system or end their formal education and go back to the colonies. Proudly, this year, all of the students passed their test and were able to go on to continue their education at other schools.
Since the children were used to most of the volunteers being college age, Marianne and Rick were affectionately known as grandma and grandpa. Throughout the day the Ward family tutored the children by reading with them, helping them with their math skills on the computers and, most fun of all, playing with them at recess. It was emphasized that any interaction was encouraged so the kids could get lots of practice speaking English.
After dinner each volunteer read to a small group of children before putting them to bed on the floor with a single blanket.
This pattern repeated itself every day, Monday-Saturday.
Before they left, Madie wrote on the family blog, "I really wish I could stay longer, I really feel like I am starting to love all the kids." The Wards were drawn to an adorable little 6-year old girl named Anu. They are sponsoring her in her education and hope she will come to visit them in the United States someday.
Even though they have only been home a month, Jake and Madie can already see that this experience has changed them. Working at Rising Star for eight days was both humbling and empowering. They discovered that they are capable of doing really hard things. At the same time, they were humbled by how little these people had but they were still very happy.
Jake is 17, a senior at Eden Prairie High School, and Madie is 16, a junior at Eden Prairie. Check out Madie's entries on the family's blog, www.wardfamilyindiatrip.blogspot.com.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 30,000 members in 80 congregations in Minnesota and over 14 million members worldwide. Members of the Church strive to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.