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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

R Star Ministries: An Interview with Rosalind Russell

Rosalind Russell is “one passionate woman doing all she can” and the more I learn about her, the more I can say that is definitely the truth! Based in the Laguna Beach area of California for the last 31 years, she founded The R Star Ministries in 1991 with a focus on empowering women.

Rosalind began her international work in Nepal (the third poorest country in Southeast Asia) in 2003 with a program called, “Women helping Women and Children…Therefore the World." With this program, her foundation provides two pregnant goats to women, who agree and sign accordingly that they will pass on two goats within two years to another village. The women also offer training and support to the village they collectively choose and they are learning to work with women of different castes.

The women in these villages seldom have any way to earn funds and as they learn to earn and recognize that they did the earning, they are empowered. As Rosalind says, “Micro banking is teaching women to be bankers, and bankers run the world.”

Rosalind has also collaborated with others to create hospital care and dental care for thousands of people in the area. In 2005, she saw the need for a school for the 200 children there; construction began in 2006 and the school is now open. She has gathered funds for books, desks, paper and pens, teachers, and chalkboards, and the structure that was built includes toilets, a cooking area, and a much needed well. With the school’s programs, human trafficking is more preventable because, Rosalind notes, “education contributes to better thinking!” Her work in the area since 2003 has helped stop trafficking and infanticide and has given pause to those thinking of freely entering a terrorist training area.

I was so excited to talk to Rosalind recently and learn more about how she is making a difference around the world.

Shelly Rachanow: Tell us more about R STAR Ministries.

Rosalind Russell: We are a small grass roots organization and we have always been focused on empowering women by assisting where we can with health and education, encouraging women to apply for a grant or scholarship. Well before our ‘goat’ work in Nepal, we began a one-on-one prison ministry in California that is still ongoing 27 years later. We support many philanthropic groups within the local Laguna Beach area, as well as nationally and internationally. Belonging to Rotary International of Laguna, I am involved in a variety of projects and exposed to many countries’ needs and how to fulfill them.

Shelly Rachanow: How did you earn the nickname “The Goat Lady”?

Rosalind Russell: The moniker “The Goat Lady” came from the very first article written about my first trip in 2003. It stuck and has broadened from Goat Lady of Laguna Beach to Goat Lady of Nepal. I just laugh when I hear someone recognizing me but not recalling my actual name of Rosalind. I am pleased to be associated with my work, and with a name few would desire because it can relate to stubborn or old, which I am. Old that is, and tenacious I will add. It all works for me.

Shelly Rachanow: Why did you decide to focus your international efforts on Nepal?

Rosalind Russell: Can’t say I decided to focus on international efforts in Nepal exactly. I will say that is what transpired because of the ‘chance’ meeting with my now adopted Nepali son Rabin while in Kathmandu in February 1988 (his family actually adopted me, rather than the other way around as most people assume). We remained in contact, lightly at times due to our time constraints, life and actual stamp money. Once I integrated to using a computer and having email, we were in constant contact, and he always asked me when I would return.

After years of political turmoil there, I finally made it back in 2003. I tried to think of what I could bring as a gift to Rabin and his family and finally I came up with goats, as they are a favored animal on small farms on mountain sides. Soon, several friends also decided to give goats and the story increased when another friend told an editor of our local paper.

The simple plan has changed my life. In truth, I didn’t plan to gift the goats more than one trip. I thought I would gather the funds, meet with one of my favorite charities which I did here on the phone a few times; then meet with the head of the same organization in Kathmandu, which I did, and hand it over to them to disperse and manage the funds I had collected. However, I wanted to help women who were living in a remote and war torn area and the charity wasn’t able to reach as far as we wanted to.

So I’ve traveled there personally and Rabin does much of the fieldwork. Because of my meeting Rabin and returning to do a little something for his family, I am now doing amazing work to benefit women… and children… and of course men, too. I like being part of the solution toward uplifting women in the wee area I eagerly work in.

Shelly Rachanow: What are some things people can do right now in their daily lives to make our world a better place?

Rosalind Russell: They can align with one or more charities they resonate with by donating their money and/or volunteering their time. They can host a gathering in their own home for the purpose of exposing the work of those they support. Government can’t manage the world, or all of us for that matter, but individually we can give of ourselves to help make the world better in our lifetime.

Peace is one of the elements we introduced to our first school, which just opened for kindergarteners to third grade students. Despite living in wars for well over a dozen years, students will take what they learn home so peace can be a consideration from our school for families to adopt for their lives.

At our school, the girls are allowed to attend on scholarships (free expresses it well). Otherwise, the country would continue to have 49% illiteracy, 98% being females as females are not considered important. Villagers will not pay to educate a female, so another way to make a difference is by sponsoring a female child so she can have uniforms/pencils/paper.

Shelly Rachanow: On your website, you say “the R STAR MINISTRIES is dedicated in bridging the gaps that have left people, especially women and children, isolated and disempowered. Through simple acts of connecting resources with people who need them most, we are changing the world one heart at a time.” What’s the most important thing you’ve learned through your experiences that you want people to know?

Rosalind Russell:  The quote from the web and blog is our mission statement. Everyone can do something, is what I have learned from my experience in Nepal. I am not an exceptional person, but I do and have done exceptional things because I am willing and eager to see what’s needed.

I have learned it takes a village to help me to do what I do. In other words, I do not work alone. I have a cadre of capable people who help me, from donors to board members, family and friends, bookkeepers and tax advisors, and counselors. I also have my own willingness to continue forward as the more I do, the more I see the way we will achieve peace in our world will be to lift women who are neglected into education and then actual jobs and food to support their lives.

My work empowers women to have a voice. I have also learned it is important to have the support of men as well, which I do.

Shelly Rachanow: And last, the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?

Rosalind Russell: Education for all, but focusing on females since 2/3 of those who are illiterate are female. Also, education so women are in a more equal place to run the world as they desire. I would find ways for women’s education to be safely available.

Education would include learning women are valuable BECAUSE they are women, empowerment being the word, self love if you will. With such empowerment, women would then be able to take care of many injustices they face, like not being allowed to work; forced genital mutilation which does go on in modern, Western countries for those thinking this is a third world country phenomenon; infanticide; forced abortions because of carrying a female child; being terrorized by rape and kidnapping; being trafficked; or being killed or neglected.

By the way, peace would be the first subject taught within the education process for both genders…if I ran the world.

For more information, visit http://www.rstarministries.org/ and http://www.rstarfoundation.org/ or contact Rosalind at PO Box 4183, Laguna Beach, CA 92652 or 949 497-4911.

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