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Six Astonishing Teens Addressing Significant Global Challenges Receive National Recognition from the World’s Largest Children’s Museum

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is proud to announce the 2020 national awardees of the prestigious Power of Children Awards (POCA). The honor recognizes and rewards students in grades 6–11 who are improving the lives of others through a selfless commitment to service and the betterment of their local communities and villages and cities around the world.

From helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infections acquired in hospitals, to printing 3D prosthetics for injured workers, to helping get kids educated and off the streets in the slums of Bangladesh and more, these remarkable young leaders are improving the world in times of global crises. On Friday evening, Nov. 13, 2020, The Children’s Museum honors the six young service leaders during an inspiring virtual event.

During the program presented by the Deborah Joy Simon Charitable Trust, the awardees will each receive a $2,000 grant to expand their philanthropic projects. When they are ready to make a college selection, they may choose a partial university scholarship from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the University of Indianapolis, or Butler University in Indianapolis.

The 2020 POCA awardees (with grade level in the 2019-2020 school year) are:

Katherine Adams
Grade 8
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
School: Providence Christian School of Texas, Dallas, Texas
Nonprofit organization: Paper For Water

At church, the Adams family learned that a child dies every 15 seconds from lack of clean water and that girls are not able to go to school because they spend their days hauling water for their families. This inspired Katherine Adams’ idea to use origami ornaments to raise money for clean water projects. Katherine and her older sister, Isabelle, learned the art of origami from their father.

With the goal of raising $500 at a month-long drive held at a Starbucks, the girls gave origami ornaments as thank you gifts for donations. Fast forward nine years and Katherine’s Power of Children Awards nominator Kayla McCaffrey says their organization, Paper For Water (PFW), has raised over $2 million for the drilling of over 200 clean water wells and other hygiene services in the Navajo nation and 20 countries (including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Peru, Mexico and others). “The water projects we fund are often located at schools or community centers,” said Katherine. “Without basic access to clean water, children are unable to attend school because they are sick from dirty water, so the cycle of poverty continues.” Katherine has become a sought-after public speaker and the organization hosts nearly 20 origami-folding events a year to support its cause.

Paper For Water is a nonprofit organization that now brings clean water to 70,000 people a year and engages over 3,000 volunteers. It partners with Living Water International for overseas projects and DigDeep to install water systems in the Navajo nation.

Katherine intends to use her POCA grant to train additional young volunteers in leadership and management skills to help grow PFW’s mission.

To learn more about Paper For Water, visit www.paperforwater.org

Abhi Desai
Grade 11
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
School: Pinnacle High School, Phoenix, Arizona
Nonprofit organization: LexGen

A favorite 7th grade teacher contributed to Abhi Desai’s love of civics. By high school, Abhi was disheartened to see that many fellow students showed very little interest in the role government plays in their lives. An alarming statistic caught his eye. According to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, only 39% of Americans can pass the U.S. Citizenship Test. Abhi determined that civics education needed an overhaul. He created a nonprofit called LexGen. “Civics education needed to be fun for students and accessible to teachers; only then could it truly take hold in schools,” said Abhi. “As students ourselves, we offer a unique perspective on what should be included in civics and how it should be taught.”

Abhi and his board of directors believe that to get and keep kids engaged in civics or history education, making the learning fun as well as informative is key. Students in grades 4 through 8 are the target of LexGen’s online and in-person curriculum. Games and animated videos keep students engrossed, says Abhi. His nonprofit has expanded into 10 states and reached an estimated 5,000 students. The LexGen website encourages qualified high school students to vote and includes a voter registration link. Abhi plans to use his POCA grant to expand the digital infrastructure for his organization.

To learn more about LexGen, visit www.lexgen.org

Viraj Jayam
Grade 11
Hometown: Roslyn Heights, New York
School: The Wheatley School, Old Westbury, New York
Program: Helping Hands Long Island

Imagine a child laborer losing a hand in a factory accident. Viraj Jayam, a child himself, was stunned when he visited his native homeland of India and learned this had happened to a friend. Viraj returned to the United States wondering how he could help his friend and millions of others around the world who cannot afford prosthetics. He became captivated with the idea of using 3D printing to create affordable prosthetics. “Through much trial and error, I gained knowledge of how to orient the printer on three axes and found the appropriate printing material and proportions for the different pieces to produce a working hand,” said Viraj. “Once the parts were printed, I molded, assembled and created my first prosthetic hand—an amazing feeling.”

Viraj’s friend was the first of dozens of recipients to receive a “helping hand.” Viraj witnessed his friend pick up a bottle minutes after receiving his prosthesis. Unfortunately, the technology currently has limitations for creating prostheses for lower limbs, but the young man says he is committed to pursuing solutions. 

To learn more about Helping Hands Long Island, visit www.helpinghandslongisland.com

He intends to use his POCA grant to increase his supply of materials and 3D printers. During the peak of the spring 2020 COVID-19 crisis in New York, Helping Hands Long Island pivoted to help frontline workers by creating face shields and hands-free door handles for local hospitals.

Benjamin Olshin
Grade 11
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
School: Catlin Gabel School, Portland, Oregon
Program: Babies With Books

Benjamin Olshin is a self-confessed bookworm. He has also grown up hearing powerful stories about families’ challenges and heartbreaks during hospitalizations in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) from his neonatologist mother. He became determined to combine his passion for books with his desire to help NICU families. Benjamin founded Babies With Books (BWB), a youth-led program, after learning that reading is especially important for NICU babies, who are at increased risk of poor development due to medical complications, family separation and socioeconomic stressors. “Three years ago, I learned reading is critical for infant brain growth. However, I did not yet understand just how healing reading can be for NICU families. I have witnessed the heartwarming connection between tiny infants and loving parents as they whisper bedtime stories,” said Benjamin.

BWB focuses on early literacy in the NICU through (1) admit reading packets, (2) teen-led book rounds, (3) a family reading library, and (4) literacy promotion events. Teen volunteers meet with NICU families to discuss how and why to read with their babies and provide them a choice of books in eighteen languages. BWB has served more than 700 families, with the number of families reading to their infants increasing from 40% to 100% after they received their BWB books.

Benjamin expects to use his POCA grant for a multi-site read-a-thon encouraging family reading, publishing of the children’s book he is writing, and expanding BWB to more hospitals.

To learn more about Babies With Books, visit www.babieswithbooks.org

Jahin Rahman
Grade 11
Hometown: New York, New York
School: Academy of American Studies, New York, New York
Program: Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB)

Jahin Rahman positively affects the lives of thousands of street children in the slums of Bangladesh. Twenty-five men chased and threw rocks at third-grader Jahin and her friends during a violent political protest in her native country before her family immigrated to the United States. Molded by the dangerous experience, Jahin dedicated herself to creating change. “I founded Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB) with a motive to get at-risk and street youth off the streets through opportunities of free permanent education and development,” said Jahin. “My target is eventually supporting all 600,000 street children of Bangladesh for them to become the next generation of Bangladeshi social justice change makers through education.”

Jahin leads more than 300 volunteers from Dhaka, Bangladesh and across the U.S. and seven countries to raise money, oversee building, and run programs for libraries, a school, a day care center for garment factory workers, computer labs, bathrooms for girls in rural schools, a drug rehabilitation center and a stipend-based educational program for child servants. In 2020, Jahin and her cadre of student volunteers quickly changed direction to temporarily direct donations to provide rations for residents of slums affected by COVID-19.

Jahin’s Power of Children Awards nominator Selima Ashraf says EYDB’s program, called Emerge, is the only one of its kind providing stipend-based educational and vocational training for Bangladeshi child servants, of which the country has more than 420,000. With her POCA grant, Jahin intends to sponsor 80 drug-addicted boys through its residential rehabilitation and educational program, Strive, to put them on a path to having productive lives.

For more information about EYDB, visit www.eydborganization.wixsite.com/eydb

Samyak Shrimali
Grade 9
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
School: Jesuit High School, Portland, Oregon
Project: Sanjeevani: A Novel Automated System for Hospital-Acquired Infection Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 1.7 million people contract hospital-acquired infections every year. Samyak Shirmali’s mother was one of them. She survived; but according to the CDC in its 2015 survey, approximately 72,000 people in acute care hospitals in the U.S. did not. Stunned to learn this, Samyak began researching the cause of these infections and a possible solution. Poor hand hygiene by hospital staff is a leading cause, he discovered. With mentoring from a 3M corporate scientist (and his nominator), Dr. Mahfuza Ali, Samyak developed a complex, fully automated, real-time software program that alerts staff when proper hygiene is not followed. The prototype earned the young entrepreneur the title of one of America’s Top 10 Young Scientists in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

According to Samyak, “The main skill I learned was to have empathy and compassion towards the millions of people who suffer from these infections every day. I developed the motivation to help eliminate this problem and do something for my society and the rest of the world.”

Samyak says his POCA grant will help him finish his prototype by incorporating industrial-grade sensors into his product and adding industrial packaging for its commercialization.

About The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary family learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. For more information about the tourist attraction and museum, please visit www.childrensmuseum.org, follow us on Twitter @TCMIndy, Facebook.com/childrensmuseum and YouTube.com/IndyTCM.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is proud to partner with Riley Children’s at Indiana University Health, Old National Bank and Ice Miller LLP.