This year, at the request of the CT Girl Scout Council, Grace applied to Girls Scouts of the USA Public Policy and Advocacy Office to exhibit her Gold Award Project and this week (June 14th), Grace will be traveling to Washington, D.C. where she will be one of eight girls nationwide presenting her Girl Scout Gold Award to the Girl Scouts Capitol Hill Gold Award Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C. on June 14th, 2016. She is also in the running to be named one of the 10 National Young Women of Distinction in July.
Grace’s Gold Award Project came about in the summer of 2015 when she was in Uganda through the Global Health Education Series at Western CT Health Network. “An acquaintance, Dr. Majid Sadigh knew of my interest in traveling to Uganda to gain inspiration for my next science project. While I was visiting, it struck me that their biggest problem was not access to electricity, but access to a quality education and health. I noted that pre-school programs did not exist in rural Uganda, so children never learn to love reading, a key requirement for literacy and education.” While in Uganda, Grace visited the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS), based in Nakaseke District, about 40 miles northwest of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The founder of ACCESS, Dr. Robert Kalyesubula, a nephrologist agreed that ACCESS was the perfect venue to develop an early education program given its three-pronged mission to provide clinical care, educate and train nurses, and support orphans and vulnerable children with access to educational and health care resources.”
Grace decided to apply for a Girl Scout Gold Award (the top award for the Girl Scouts now in its 100th year, similar to the Eagle Scout Award in the Boy Scouts) from the Girl Scouts of CT to address the problem of illiteracy and health in Uganda to provide a platform to address the issues she had uncovered. Grace said, “My Gold Award mentor, Catherine Fedorchek offered me advice on how to improve my project and also supported me in promoting my project within my community; she was there to support me when I gave a talk promoting the project at Danbury Hospital’s Global Health Education Series … My project has allowed me to take action, to educate and inspire others to act, and it makes me feel empowered to make a difference in the world.” Having started in Scouts in the first grade, Grace is now in a “Juliette Troop” for older girls who work independently on projects.
Having assembled a support team for her project both in the US and in Uganda, Grace began in September 2015 working with retired Danbury teacher, Mrs. Joan Bybee to design a simple curriculum that families could easily follow. The curriculum revolves around a TV, powered by an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), that children can watch educational DVD’s and CD’s and learn. There are also educational toys they can play with, and there are books they can take home with them on a weekly basis. The parents and caregivers are actively involved in the curriculum; they help teach the children traditional folklore and help with snack time. Grace confessed that the first time she saw pictures of the 30 children attending the pre-school program managed by two permanent volunteers, she cried. “Last year, when I was in Uganda, all I witnessed was hopelessness. It was amazing to see that seven months later, I was receiving images of children eating, playing with toys, laughing, and watching educational DVDs.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Grace is currently working on expanding the project to provide space for the 100 or so families on the waitlist and also to move the current students out of the Nursing School classroom they are currently occupying. Said Grace, “Initially, like Juliette Gordon Low, who sold her pearls to start Girl Scouting, I used funds I was awarded at the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair to “jump start” my project. I also had support with donations from family, friends, students, and faculty at The Gunnery.” For photos of the school and information about it, Grace has designed a Facebook page: Uganda Reads with a drawing of a mother reading to a child.
Earning awards is not new to Grace, who says, “I have been using the Girl Scouts of CT and the CT Science and Engineering Fair (CTSEF) interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously to promote issues regarding health, education and the environment. In the fifth grade, I ran a successful blood drive with the help of the Red Cross and earned my Girl Scout Bronze Award. In the seventh grade, I won first place in the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair (CTSEF) for promoting the importance of access to clean water. In the 8th grade, I again won several awards for building a working model of a solar updraft tower. In the 8th grade, I earned my Girl Scout Silver Award by helping an organization called Young Lives, a nonprofit organization that helps unwed teen moms who are raising a baby alone stay in school. As part of my Silver Award, I designed inspirational booklets for the mothers to carry with them and reflect on. Its purpose was to raise their self-esteem and motivation to finish high school and raise their children out of a life of poverty. In the 9th grade, I won several awards at the CTSEF for building a solar concentrating system using a thermoelectric generator (TEG). In the 10th grade, I built a photo bioreactor that treated wastewater while producing biofuel from micro-algae. The photo bioreactor won the Arthur Mensing Award --- $1000 cash award for excellence in the physical sciences.”