Anxiously Engaged In a Good Cause

Anxiously Engaged In a Good Cause

'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.

In 2002, after the Harrises had committed to Seventh Star, a Toronto-based charity, Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) asked the Harrises to help with a “bedkit” distribution in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, in north east India. A SCAW bedkit contained 20 items including a ground sheet, mattress, sheet, pillow and case, blanket, anti-malarial net, school clothes, school supplies and footwear to children in need around the world all for a $35 donation. Since all items are manufactured in the country of distribution, the bedkit also supports local cottage industries. Don and Roberta knew about this charity and embraced the chance to become involved. The SCAW invitation meant that they could serve both charities during the 3 months they planned to stay in India.
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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.

Leaving Seventh Star Home, Harrises travelled north by overnight train to Kolkata to join three other Canadian volunteers with Sleeping Children Around the World. 'The call to help with the distribution of 3000 bedkits was our first SCAW experience and we loved it! Working with the Kolkata Rotarians to give clothes and bedding to needy children was heartwarming.' Sister Harris said.
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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.

At the same time, Lalitha, a young woman of Indian heritage, also age 18, who Becky and John Douglas had adopted, came to Rising Star Outreach to visit friends for a few days. She and Arrius found a mutual attraction. 'The two of them visiting RisingStar at same time was meant to be,' said the Harrises. After their meeting, both Arrius and Lalitha served Church missions. Though attending different schools, the two dated long-distance for a year via phone, email and occasional visits. They made marriage plans. The Harris, Racioppo and Douglas families met for the first time in December 2012 when Brother Harris, an authorized Temple sealer, sealed Arrius and Lalitha in the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple, where Lalitha's parents, John and Becky Douglas serve as Mission Presidents for the Dominican Republic.
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In 2011, Dante Racioppo, Arius’s brother, also wanted a humanitarian experience before his mission. This time, Dante and his grandparents went to Chennai in south India with SCAW for a distribution of six thousand bedkits. Then they went to Rising Star Outreach. In the leper colonies, Dante and Don removed bandages and washed legs and feet. Roberta took blood samples, blood pressures and recorded the results. Humbled, and at times overwhelmed, by all their experiences in the various countries the Harrises feel changed. “We must get out of our comfort zone at times. We feel great love for the people we’ve met and have had the honour to serve,” Roberta says. 'Our time with each grandson proved invaluable. Sharing every day together, reaching out to those who have so little touched our hearts,' Brother and Sister Harris said. “A need presented itself and we were able to respond. We encourage everyone to listen to your prompting and to act upon them. It could lead you to very gratifying adventures.”
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Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28 says, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And in as much as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
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