Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why She Gives: Varsha Sathappan knows Firsthand What the Generosity of a Few Can Do to Change a Girl's Life


Although I was born in California, each summer I left America, and traveled across the world to see my grandparents who lived in Kodikottai, a village in southern India. I loved those summers, but as I got older, I started to notice the difference in the lifestyle of the other villagers, and what they didn’t have access to.

On one vacation when I was a teenager I returned to India to discover that the sister of my grandmother’s maid, only two or three years older than me, had died in childbirth. Her baby died, too. She had been married at 15 years old, when I was in middle school. I was in shock. We had played together as kids. I didn’t understand how she could be gone.

After doing research and talking to my family—my mom is a pediatrician—I figured out what I wanted to focus on for my Girl Scout Gold Award: addressing healthcare in rural India. I decided I wanted to build an outpatient ward at a pre-existing medical clinic in Kodikottai that was under-staffed and lacked equipment.

My parents were proud, but, honestly, also concerned. While they always have had high expectations for me, they pointed out the problems I might face trying to achieve this goal and said they didn’t want to see me fail. I knew they were right about this being a massive undertaking, but I wasn’t about to give up my dream. I talked to my Girl Scout troop leader, and because of all the leadership training she encouraged within our troop, I knew I had her support to make it happen. She pushed me to go for the Gold.

I started work on the outpatient ward when I was a sophomore in high school. Like my parents, the local government officials in Kodikottai were supportive, but didn’t necessarily think I could do it. Still, I had a lot of support from Dr. Gandhi, who ran the clinic. While I was back in the United States studying for school exams, he would send updates on contracts with construction companies and architects. He never treated me like a kid, but like a partner trying to make the world a better place. I just wanted to help prevent another tragedy like what happened to my childhood friend. I wanted everyone in that village to have access to healthcare.

After two and a half years of constant effort, including construction, paperwork, going back and forth with officials, research, and engaging the Kodikottai community, my dream was realized. The outpatient ward opened on August 6, 2013, and has served about 40 people every day since. Girl Scouts always believed in me, and without their support, this project would have never been possible.

When I found out I was awarded the title of National Young Woman of Distinction in 2014, I was instantly humbled because I knew that there are thousands of other girls just like me across the country and around the world doing projects like my Gold Award project. Girl Scouts all around the country are literally changing our whole world.

That’s why I’m a lifetime member. I want to give other girls the same, amazing experience I had, and continue to be a part of this extraordinary organization that not only changes lives, but sometimes saves them. I still volunteer on a Gold Award committee today as a mentor, and I am proud to have donated. Consider becoming a lifetime member like me, or make a donation today. Stand in solidarity with girls. Show us that you support all the work we do to make the world a better place.