Vail woman in India to bring help, hope to hopeless |

Vail woman in India to bring help, hope to hopeless

EAGLE, Colorado – Terri Rider traded Vail for the squalor of northern India, working with people considered less than human in their country.

She returned to India a few weeks ago to face the most awful and obvious question: “Why are you here?”

Everything she does helps someone, improves lives, saves lives. The work is not complicated, it’s just hard. They’re not the same thing.

“India has so much depravity, oppression and poverty,” she says.

Many of the villagers she helps are Dalits (pronounced day-leets), or untouchables. They’re the lowest level of India’s caste system and a large percentage of the population.

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“They are stamped by society as a non-person. They do not exist and are considered worthless,” Rider said in an e-mail exchange.

Not to her and those like her. Rider is unabashedly Christian, doing what she can with what she’s got, where she’s at for Jesus’ sake today. Where she’s at is northern India, setting up medical clinics and schools in villages where neither has ever existed, for people who never thought they would.

“Cultural pressures control every aspect of their existence,” Rider said. “That’s for food, shelter, freedom of religion, education, medical care, choice of profession.”

In keeping with their ancient religious beliefs, children are still married off and widows are occasionally burned, she said.

Some of what she’s teaching is so heart breakingly simple: Wash your hands, brush your teeth … but what they don’t know can lead to diseases, which can lead them to an early grave. It happens all the time.

She helped start a school and was there when the first graduating class walked the commencement line. None of the 17 kids had a chance to go to school before that. No one in any of their families had ever attended.

Now they have an English language education. Now they have a chance.

She’s trying to change a nation, one student, one patient at a time. Sometimes she’s successful, often she is not.

“Working here allows me to be a part of something much larger than myself,” Rider said. “It is difficult sometimes to grasp the enormity of the relevance of a particular act or word. However big or small, I can do something to make a difference.”

She loves Jesus and Jesus loves her back. She loves these Dalits, these untouchables, and they love her back.

Love will make a person do some strange and wonderful things.

Besides setting up clinics and schools, Rider helps run medical teams who arrive from the United States and other parts of the developed world. They come for a week or two; they work what looks like miracles; they leave.

She stays, doing everything she can while preparing for the next team.

In the dialect of her area, she says, the name “Dalit” translates to, “It would be better to never of been born.”

“There is no escape. There is no comfort. All they know is survival,” says Rider.

And a glimmer of hope, thanks to the Terri Riders of the world.

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