Siya: This Gold Award Girl Scout is Taking the Fight Against Childhood Dental Disease and Oral Cancer Global
I’ve been a Girl Scout for ten years, and what it’s taught me is that no matter what career path I choose, no matter where I go in life, I want to be involved with helping people and making the world a better place.
When my grandmother died of oral cancer in 2015, I wanted to learn more about this form of cancer and dental disease in general. Was it something that could be prevented? I grew up seeing my grandmother treat marginalized patients in India—she was inspiring and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
My research led me to a U.S. Surgeon General’s report that said oral cancer kills one person each hour globally and that dental disease forms the largest spectrum of chronic childhood disease—and both are containable through early detection and treatment! Motivated by these statistics and the skills I’d gained as a Girl Scout, I began Project Help a Child Smile, which focuses on oral health education and the prevention and treatment of dental disease and raising awareness about oral cancer here in the state of Georgia as well as in Delhi, India.
This would be the basis of my Girl Scout Gold Award. It was my opportunity to put all I’ve learned through Girl Scouts into practice and get involved in something bigger than myself, and to make a real difference in the world. My team and mentors supported me as I started talking with people in authority positions, negotiating cultural sensitivities between two countries and cultures, and learning how to break down complex health topics into smaller bits that kids as young as seven could understand.
Since then, and with a team of 175 people, Project Help a Child Smile has presented educational seminars to children, distributed dental supplies, and created a network of dental care providers and mobile delivery units that can offer low-cost or free dental care and cancer screenings. My healthcare model has been adopted by dental offices, state dental associations, and university programs in several states in the U.S. as well as in India, with more than 130,000 supplies distributed. My project seeks to bridge oral healthcare inequalities for underserved populations and improve access to care, lowering untreated disease rates which can ultimately have a serious impact on a country's healthcare system.
Being chosen as a National Gold Award Girl Scout for my work through this project is such an honor. Girl Scouts has given me some of the happiest memories I can think back on. It’s a safe space for all girls, where you learn that you can make a difference in the world starting right now. If there’s something that’s not right, if there’s a change you want to make in your community, Girl Scouts will equip you with the skills to make it happen.