'I got a prompting like I had never had before—a prompting not to be ignored. We have to help these people!' Don Harris told his wife Roberta after reading an article in the LDS Church News titled, 'Seventh Star: Reaching Out to Touch the Untouchables'. The 2002 article described the suffering of a population in India that few cared about—victims of leprosy. It recounted how returned LDS missionary, Paul Vijaykumar, responded to the living conditions of families affected by leprosy in India where Paul lived. Paul, owning little himself, sold his wedding ring in order to feed, shelter and care for the children from the leper colonies. He also visited the parents and others in the leper colonies once a month and brought bags of rice and a change of dressings for those with lesions. When deaths occurred, Paul dug the graves himself because no one else had fingers with which to grasp the shovel.
The Harrises had visited India for 12 days in the summer in 1988 when Don, Roberta and their youngest daughter Sharena, just 14, went on a two-month round-the-world adventure. Moved by what they saw there, they knew they wanted to return to India some day. That “someday” came when, in their efforts to connect with Paul and Seventh Star, the Harrises contacted the organization’s U.S. representatives, Becky and John Douglas, who were also members of the Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Several years earlier, the Douglases discovered that prior to her tragic death, their 20 year-old daughter, Amber regularly sent part of her college spending money to orphans in India. In their grief, the Douglases followed Amber’s charity trail to Paul and joined his efforts. Without meeting in person, Becky embraced the Harrises as the first volunteers for the Seventh Star Home.
For the first leg of their journey early in January 2003, Don and Roberta landed in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). They found a driver and car and set off across the country. Their driver spoke little English and they spoke no Hindi, but with a one dollar compass and a sense of adventure, they found their way along highways and back roads to the Seventh Star Home in a village near India's south east coast. Upon arrival, they moved in with the Vijaykumar family, Paul, his wife Uma, their three-year-old son and Uma's parents. 'My wife and I slept together on a 3/4 size steel bed with no mattress,'Brother Harris recalled. They stayed in the village for three weeks and helped Paul school the children, dress open sores, give injections and bring sacks of rice to the leper colonies. At the end of the visit, they took the children to enjoy the warm water of the Indian Ocean. Local fishermen gave the children a ride in their boats and the fishermen's wives cooked them a fish dinner on the beach. The children responded with love and delight, grateful for every kindness offered.
Over the years, the Harrises continued their charitable work and kept in touch with Becky as she started her own charitable organization, Rising Star Outreach. In 2007, following his grandparents’ example, the Harris’s 18 year-old grandson, Arrius Racioppo wanted a humanitarian project before his Church mission. Once again, the Harrises arranged to serve two charities on their trip. During the summer, Arrius earned the money for his airfare to travel with Don and Roberta to Bangladesh for a SCAW distribution of six thousand bedkits. “In one storage area, Arrius found a poisonous snake among the bedkits. After a vigorous skirmish, the score was Arrius one—the cobra nothing!” Sister Harris says.
From Bangladesh, the Harrises and Arrius flew to Becky’s Rising Star Outreach School in South India. It was voted “best school” by the State of Tamil Nadu in 2014. For five days, they helped the 170 children in residence with school lessons and play. In the leper colonies, they helped dress sores on affected limbs and gave injections.