Davis Peace Project

I’m not sure that many people still follow my blog now that I’m back in the states, however, I wanted to post the summary of my time in India that wast posted on the Davis Peace Project’s web-site.  If you are still following check it out!

Davis Peace Project

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Touring India!

During my last several days in India I had the opportunity to tour through India with the last session of Rising Star volunteers!  It was a blast getting to see another part of the country especially after working so hard all summer.  It was a wonderful way to end the summer.

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How Do You Say Goodbye?

How to do say goodbye to the people who have become not only good friends but family?  How do you say goodbye to people who you have watched grow and change, that you have laughed with and cried with and watch grow up?   For me leaving Rising Star was like leaving 180 of my own children behind.  I love those kids so much and I miss them more than words can say.  I miss seeing Vanamalar get so excited to dance, I miss seeing Praveen in his little white shoes, that get him in trouble everyday because they aren’t part of the dress code, and I miss seeing Joseph dance to Singum Singum.   I miss Vijaylakshmi’s hugs and kisses, Malavika’s quiet and smart way of answering a question, and Kanmani Devins mischievous ways.    I  will miss Ragikumari and Kala, Maran, Manjula and Swathy.  I miss my friends in the colonies especially Damardon and Krishnamoorthy and as I am now back in the states millions and millions of miles away all I can do is send them my love,  pray for them and send them love.   I love the people I was working with this summer, I don’t have great eloquent words to share  about how I feel except for the fact that I love them and miss them all tremendously.

Saying goodbye to Damradon

Before I left Manjula and the Peery Matriculation school surprised me with honoring me at the morning assembly.  After morning announcements Manjula announced my departure.  She came forward with a beautiful silver shawl and a small shell with my name engraved on the top and presented it to me.  The students all in unison thanked me  and as we all started singing the national anthem I got tears in my eyes.  I was totally taken back by their gratitude.  I love the people of India.  They will be in my heart forever.

After the assembly

Manjula and I

Being honored at the assembly

There were a lot of moments this summer that I was filled with tremendous joy and other moments where all I could do was cry.  This was a summer full of hard work, intense emotion, lots of love and Thousands and Thousands of tiny miracles!


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“I Can Choose to Let my Light Shine.”

This summer Shiloh and I taught all 180 Rising Star Students a song written by our friend and the founder of the Promethean Spark dance methodology, Shaun Parry.  It is entitled: I’m a Rising Star.  During playtime one afternoon my friend Dani recorded one of the smartest and sweetest little girls at the school, Maryiembee singing the entire song.  Maryiembee is out of tune and you can’t hear the melody because she is so flat, however, it is beautiful to me.  Maryiembee is a Rising Star just like all 180 students at the Perry Matriculation School are.  I feel blessed that I have had the opportunity to work here this summer.  I have learned so much from the patients in the colonies, the children at the school, the many amazing volunteers that have come and gone and most importantly from my Heavenly Father.  I have learned that we really all are God’s Children.  I can not explain the great inequalities of life but I do know that each person has the ability to make a difference in this life if we but let our light shine, even in the darkest of night.


Written by: Shaun Parry

I am free to be all I can be.

I love life and I love being me.

I can choose to let my light shine.

The world is waiting.

Whose turn is it? Mine!

I’m a rising, rising star.

I’m a rising, rising star.

Spread the word near and far.

I’m a rising (rising) star.

I will live like the sun sharing light.

I will shine in the darkest of night.

I will laugh and learn and through any strife,

Live a long, happy, healthy and loving life.

I’m a rising, rising star.

I’m a rising, rising star.

Spread the word near and far.

I’m a rising (rising) star.

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What do you do on your last day in India?

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Pictures taken by Jennie Doezie


1-Go shopping in Chengulpute.

2-Say goodbye to Vail.

3-go on an early morning walk through the village.

4-Say goodbye to the Rising Star office Staff.

5-Take a couple of pictures with them for good measure.

6-Make sure one of the pictures is taken in the traditional Indian manner…no smiles.

7-Teach a dance class to all of the students and volunteers.

8-Have a big dance party with all of the students!

9-Say goodbye to Ragikumari and Kala.

10- Say goodbye to the boys.

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The Final Performance

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Pictures Taken By: Jennie Doezie

The week before I left India I helped put together one last performance for the Rising Star students.  They all wore their special dance T-shirts and they all looked adorable.  The show consisted of a couple of traditional dances in honor of Independence day along with a couple of numbers performed by the Life Dance Troupe.  Along with these numbers I had all of the older students perform exercises that we had worked on in class over the summer.    I chose a leader from each class to introduce the group.  The student introducing the class also shared what they had learned over the summer in both Moral Science and Dance, which are the two classes that I taught over summer.  It was wonderful hearing them share what they had learned in both classes and then watch them perform the exercises that enforced these concepts.  Some of the concepts in which we focused on this summer in both the dance and moral science classes include:








Never giving up

I was so proud of all of the students and I know that they were proud of themselves too.  After spending a summer trying to find decent speakers I finally found some good ones at a big shopping store called Landmark and with the help of Nyim, the Rising Star IT man, we were able to hook up not only the speakers but some microphones too.  With the help of Steele and Maran chairs were set up for all of the Peery matriculation faculty along with all of the short term volunteers.   The students all sat in their bright-colored T-shirts waiting in eager anticipation for their turn to perform.

The program went well and I was so proud of them.  After the performance a kind man and friend by the name of Darmadan sponsored juice boxes for all of the students.  It was a fun treat for all of the students to receive a small treat after the performance and a wonderful way for me to thank them for all of the hard work that they had put into their dance classes all summer.

As far as the touring educational show goes…I was able to make a lot of headway, however, the touring part of the show probably wont happen until the beginning of January.  A large part of the grant has gone towards helping to sustain the program.  I wish that I could have done more, but when I reflect on my summer I worked my butt off and I left the program with everything that I had. The touring show proved to be a much larger task than I had originally intended.  The development of this show is going to take a lot more work on the home front with writing music and coming up with more dances that are cohesive for the students to perform.  Now that I have the students stories the process of writing a show about their lives may be started.  This process will take place with the help of a team of people who are sensitive to these students issues.  This team will help weave these students stories together by incorporating special songs and dance together to tell a story about Rising above the social stigmas of leprosy.  I am excited that I was able to help build the foundation for something that will be able to stand as a powerful reminder that we all can rise above our difficulties and become the Rising Stars that we are ment to be!

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What I have done and What needs to happen

What I have done this summer and  Where the program  needs to go:

What has happened this summer?

1)    Each student received a basic understanding of the Promethean Spark dance methodology through weekly classes.

2)    Through the audition process the after school Life Dance Troupe was established.

3)    Rules were established, developed by the group.  These rules include the following:

  1. First stand in line feet together and quiet.
  2. When someone is speaking, no one else speaks.
  3. Be Respectful and kind to each other.
  4. We don’t stop or give up!
  5. Patience even when something is hard.
  6. It is ok to ask questions.
  7. Our focus is the dance.
  8. Be on time.
  9. Ask and wait for an answer before you touch someone.
  10. Have FUN!

4)    Organization of Dance costumes, including the Promethean Spark Dance

T-shirts that may be used for dance performance on campus.

5)    Purchasing of Sound equipment for the troupe.  Including:

  1. White Boom box with CD, tape and Radio functions
  2. Altec portable I-Pod speakers
  3. Large 3 piece Altec speakers
  4. 8 GB I-Pod Nano with a variety of approved warm up and dance music in both English and Tamil

6)    Choreographing and setting two different dances on the Life Dance Troupe

7)    With the help of Daphe Interviewed and recorded the stories of the 13 members of the Life Dance Troupe

8)    The school dance program for the July 10th New Dinning Block Dedication.  The student performed for an audience of just over 500 hundered individuals.  Many of their parents and other coming to visit from the variouse leprosy colonies along with dignitaries from around the world.

9)    A demonstration of the Promethean Spark Dance exercises during a special school assembly held on August 13th.

Where we need to go:

1)    Hold auditions at the beginning of each Dance term at Rising Star.  (A dance term will last for a three-month period.)  The Life Dance Troupe is an honor for students who show initiative in both their schoolwork and on the dance floor, a positive attitude, a willingness to work hard, and an enthusiasm to learn.  However, this troupe should not be exclusive.  All students should feel welcome and students who were not able to be a part of the Life Dance Troupe the dance semester before should be given the opportunity for a new and coming semester.

2)     Continue the development of the touring show.

3)    Start teaching the students dance numbers and songs that will be used in this touring show.

4)    Develop a touring schedule and coordinate drivers, and parent waivers with Padma, Steele and Sarah, Maran, Manjula and Celina.

5)    Oversee the building of the risers for the touring show.

Keeping the Life Dance Troupe going during the Interum

The Life Dance Program should not die between the transition of the Promethean Spark dance instructors.  In order for the after school program to continue during the interim the following steps have been put into place:

1)    Two leaders, Joseph Stalin and Graci M., have been selected to help run rehearsals twice a week.

2)    Rehearsals will take place twice a week on Monday and Thursday between 4:30-5:45 p.m.

3)    There is a specific outline for the troupe rehearsals and I have assigned members of the troupe to help lead the warm up.  (See attached dance rehearsal checklist.)

4)    Joseph should fill out this checklist on Monday and Graci should fill it out on Thursday.

5)     Friday morning during Interim at 10:30 Joseph and Graci will be required to meet with Manjula and turn in the rehearsal reports and let here know how rehearsals are going, report if a member is consistently receiving in-to marks etc.

The Life Dance Troupe is a privilege and if their school work, attendance and attitudes are not in line they will be asked to take a break from the troupe for the month of September in order to focus on their schooling.  If their becomes an issue with one of the students in the Troupe it will be up to the discretion of Manjula, Celina, Steele and Sarah to determine whether or not they will have the opportunity to continue attending rehearsals.  When the new Dance Master arrives at the beginning of October the students behavior will be re-evaluated and the decision to let the child join in the troupe again will be determined.

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Victory, Victory, Victory to Thee!

Today India celebrated their 63 Independence day!  Over the summer I have had the opportunity to learn the words to this beautiful anthem.    Written by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the first five stanzas of this quasi sanskritized Bengali hymn were adopted as India’s National anthem on January 24th 1950.    The words to this beautiful anthem along with the translation are found below.  There are many things about this country that I do not understand but there are many things that I love about this land.  I am grateful to be here in this beautiful country.  Victory, Victory, Victory to thee!

Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he

Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā

Punjāba Sind Gujarāṭa

Drāviḍa Utkala

Vindhya Himāchala

Yamunā Gangā

jaladhi taranga

Tava śubha nāme jāge

Tava śubha āśiṣa māge

Gāhe tava jaya gāthā

Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he

Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta

Jaya he jaya he jaya he

Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India’s destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind,
Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida and Orissa and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Ocean.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
Victory, victory, victory, Victory to thee.

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Many Happy Returns of the Day!

The small hand of the tiniest Rising Star student, Reshma, reached up for my hand.   In her broken English she formulated the sentence, “Many Happy Returns of the Day!”  In Tamil Nadu the traditional way of wishing someone a happy birthday is by shaking their hand with a big smile and rather than wishing them a Happy Birthday you wish them, Many happy returns of the day!   It is also common for the Birthday girl or boy to buy sweets and share the sweets with all of their friends and family rather than wait on being doted over with hundreds of gifts and presents.  Nearly two weeks ago I celebrated my 23rd Birthday here in India and it was a Birthday that I will never forget.  My actual Birthday was spent traveling to the neighboring state of Andra Pardesh with the 20 or so Rising Star volunteers,  and the Rising Star medical team to visit two leprosy colonies that had never received medical care from the Rising Star team.  Because I knew that I would be traveling on my Birthday I decided to celebrate with the kids the night before.  I ordered a large cake to share with all of the students.   Rising Star’s cook, Padmini and her family helped me slice it into hundreds of small pieces.  With the help of a couple of volunteers I was able to distribute it to all of the students.  Traditionally when a Birthday girl or boy distributes cake all of the students line up and sing happy birthday to him/her on the front steps of the hostel.   However, the night of the 19th there was a 40 minute monsoon downpour and so all of the kids were safe  in their houses and were not about to leave their homes.  Rather than distribute the cake all at one time I instead filled platters with the slices of cake and took them around to each house.

At each house I was bombarded by tiny hands reaching and saying please and thank you, I was greeted by the song Happy birthday and left with several homemade cards the children had made for me.  By the time I had  reached the 3rd house one of the older boys came up and smeared cake frosting all over my face.  The kids all got a kick out of this and each house that I visited after that I had several students come up to me and smear some of the frosting off of their cake onto my face.  By the time I arrived at the last house my face was covered in frosting.  Despite the frosting covered face I ended in Saraswathi’s room and pulled out my speakers by request of Logeshwari, one of the older girls, and performed for many of the girls.

Despite my frosting covered face I set my  speakers down and I started dancing for everyone.  It was a very special moment, after performing for them I then put on some traditional Tamil music and the evening ended up turning into one big dance party.  For nearly 45 min.  I sat dancing with Indian women and children.  While the rain began to start up again we danced to a traditional marriage song, we did the garagarm pot dance and continued moving to the sounds and beats of the Indian music late into the night.  As we stomped our feet and I twirled small Vanamalar in my arms I was overcome with Joy!   Dancing late into the night with the Indian people was definitely one of the best Birthday parties I have ever had!

The following morning was an early one.  In order to arrive in Andra Pradesh and help those in the colonies we left the hostel by 5 a.m. by  7:30 a.m. we reached the neighboring boarder of Andra Pradesh and an hour and a half later we were still sitting there.   The day we tried to enter the state there was a strike going on and so we sat at the boarder waiting for the Indian officials to check our van’s registration.  After a lot of back and forth between a crowd of Indian men and Dr.Kumar we were able to pass the boarder.  Apparently there is a rule in India that if you own a private vehicle and you are going to cross state boundaries you cannot have more than 12 passengers.   Unfortunately our van had 13 volunteers so we had to rent a van at the boarder and leave our van in a parking lot in the middle of India with faith that it would still be sitting there when returned in 2 days. It seemed like a made up rule to me…but then again this is india and nothing seems to surprise me anymore.   Once we switched cars we were on our way but with the delay our hotel reservations had been canceled so we had to find another place to stay.  After 8 hours of travel we finally arrived at the hotel and we were able to have lunch.  Indian noodles had never tasted so good.  I inhaled my lunch and got back on the van ready to travel to the first colony.  It took us another hour to drive to the first colony located at the base of the richest temple in India, talk about the irony.  The vegetation was much denser than anywhere in Chennai and in order to get to this colony we had to drive up and down a long and windy road.  When we finally arrived the 80 patients were all waiting for us,  and had been for several hours.  Because they had been waiting for so long we did not bother wasting any time and jumped right in with testing for hypertension, and diabetes, taking pictures of their conditions for medical purposes, and washing and re-bandaging their wounds.  We ended up staying until it was dark.

During my time I took a break and sat down next to a kind woman who was helping her mother and farther-in law receive medical care.  As I sat done next to this woman she began to speak to me in some broken English.  After a few minutes of pained conversation, due to the language barrier, she found out that it was my Birthday.   When she found out that it was my birthday she became so excited that she said, “Birthday Sari, come.” And so I followed.  I followed her through the Indian jungle, muddy roads and all to a small grass roofed home.  She invited me into her two-room hut where her and her family of 7 resided.  It was humbling to say the least, there were small chickens running around and they used a cot as a coach in their all-purpose room.   However, despite her and her families humble circumstances they had a TV.  In fact as soon as I lowered my head to fit through their small door the first thing they did was switch on their television set.

She began wrapping me in a beautiful sari but had to stop because the top was too small for me.  This woman was so tiny that there was no way her sari blouse would fit me.  Since I didn’t fit she reached into her cupboard, full of saris, and pulled out an even prettier and more ornate piece of fabric.   She began wrapping the yards and yards of silk around my body and kept saying,  “my sari go to America,” and I kept saying, “to wear is a wonderful gift, not to keep.”  She was so persistent that finally my friend Hannah who had come along said, the photo is the gift, the photo is a wonderful gift.  So with the new enthusiasm that she would get her picture taken she finished wrapping me up and I went out front where her husband greeted me with a cold Thumbs Up (the Indian equivalent to coke.) I don’t think that I could have received a better gift.  I was amazed at how this woman was willing to give me something of such great monetary value when she came from such humble means.

After trying on Sandoshim’s sari and sipping my birthday soda I headed back to the community center where the volunteers were all set up.  As I walked back 20 or so Indian children came up to me and began singing me Happy Birthday.  I just lost it, tears started streaming down my face and all I could think of was the hymn: Because I have been given much.  After singing to me the kids all ran up and hugged my legs as tight as they could.  Tears were streaming down my face, here I was in a leprosy colony and with hundreds of people who had never seen me before, who physical struggled with a disease and it’s stigmas and they were the ones singing to me.  It was a humbling experience and did not stop there.

After the kids sang me happy birthday I was offered the opportunity to present one of the men in desperate need for crutches with a new pair.  What a powerful moment it was for me to give this man new crutches.   After coming from a situation where I had  to use crutches for 3 months I was amazed at his joy.  After my 3 months I was more than ready to get rid of those sticks because they hindered my ability to accomplish simple every day tasks.  However, this man was so excited to receive the crutches because they were going to make his life much easier.    While I was so excited to get rid of mine he was just as excited to receive crutches that actually worked.   The cyclicality of life never ceases to amaze me and giving these crutches to this man on my birthday was a reminder that life continues to move forward in one eternal round.

My 23rd Birthday was incredible, I could not have asked for a better birthday.  Along with the experiences above I also had the opportunity to ride in an Indian party bus, stop for ice cream with a bunch of friends and help my brothers and sisters here in India.  Being 22 was awesome and with a start like this one I know that 23 will be too!

Pictures taken by: Jennie Dozie

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Art is Heart

The other day I visited the colony Bahadaporum.  I have been to this colony now 6 times and have made good friends with many of the people in this colony.  When I arrived last Thursday I sat down next to Krishnamurthy, who is so sick that he is literally skin and bones.  His blood pressure is high, and as I sat next to him on his small cot tears streamed down his face due to pain in his lower legs.  Krishnamurthy is blind due to side effects from leprosy and has a difficult time hearing out of one ear.  As I sat next to him I was hesitant to turn on music.  He started saying something to me in Tamil and I could not understand.  As I sat there trying to understand I called to my friend Damadan who also suffers from Leprosy but speaks some English.  He hobbled over to us and sat down. Krishnamurthy repeated what he had told me.  Damadan looked up at me with tears in the one eye he could see out of and translated Krishnamurthy’s haunting words. “He wants to die,” Damadan translated, “He wants to return to God, I too want to die.”  Without realizing it I felt my face and there were tears streaming down my face.  I didn’t know what to do.  So I sat there and told them both that I loved them.  I took Krishnamurthy’s mangled and bent hands and just held them.  Soon before I knew it we were doing simple movements together.  We sat with each other for about five minuets doing simple gestural movements, working back and forth.  As we finished he held my hands and whispered, “Sandosham” which means, Happy in Tamil.  As I reflect on the situation today I’m not exactly sure how we transitioned from such a somber moment into moving and clapping our hands but I do know that movement is healing.  These experiences along with many others have helped me see the great benefit of the movement arts.

Martha Graham said, “Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can.”  That day in the colony Krishnamurthy had many reasons not to live however, I believe that through the movement arts I was able to give him at least one reason to keep on living and simply smile.

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The last several pictures in this slide show were taken by Jennie Dozie.

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