Anoushka Talwar has always had a special place in her heart for premature babies, and with good reason: She and her younger brother each weighed about two pounds at birth.
“My dad used to tell me how he would read to me and my brother at the hospital every single day,” the now 14-year-old said, “and how it was beneficial to a child’s brain and how it was a good way to bond with a child through an incubator.”
Dad’s words – and the family’s experience — helped inspire Anoushka to take on a service project that recently earned her a Silver Award, the second-highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.
Her goal was to establish mini-libraries in the neonatal intensive care units of two hospitals — Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — Scottish Rite and Emory Johns Creek, where her brother, Shiv, was born.
The Forsyth County teen and Lambert High School freshman initially hoped to collect 100 children’s books for the hospitals.
“But every time she went out, she came back with at least 20 books,” her mother, Shweta Kumar, said. “She was quite determined.”
Within four months, Anoushka was able to say: Mission accomplished and exceeded.
Going door-to-door in her Suwanee neighborhood, making appeals at area schools, and setting up donation boxes at local businesses, Anoushka collected 450 books.
“At every door and house I went to, I would explain what my project was,” she said. “Parents can’t have any physical contact with their premature babies. All they can do is sing, read and talk to them.”
Today, the two mini-libraries in the neonatal intensive care units at CHOA and Emory Johns Creek are stocked with a combined 300 hardback children’s books. (Hardbacks were requested by the hospitals because they’re easier to keep clean.)
The rest of the books that were collected – mostly paperbacks – are in care packages for the parents of preemies to take home, Anoushka said.
Christine Wollenhaup, director of Women’s Services at Emory Johns Creek, said the books Anoushka collected “will assist parents in getting used to speaking to their babies.”
And that’s an important first step in a child’s development.
“Babies that receive loving words have double the vocabulary of those who did not – by the time they reach five years of age,” Wollenhaup said.
A premature baby is defined as one born before 37 weeks, and that’s certainly Anoushka and her brother. She arrived at 27 weeks and 2.2 lbs. Shiv was born at 26 weeks and weighed 2.1 lbs.
Both children are today happy and active with no lasting effects from arriving so early and so tiny.
Anoushka’s long-range goal is to become either a lawyer, following in her grandfather’s footsteps, or a homicide detective. “I just like helping people,” she said.
Anoushka loves playing the piano, basketball, and badminton and making YouTube videos. She’s planning on joining her school’s TED Club, hoping one day to make a TED Talks video on another of her passions, animals and the prevention of animal cruelty.
The family’s dog, Oliver, and Anoushka’s idol, singer Billie Eilish, for whom she has a dedicated YouTube channel, both played a role in her decision to become a vegetarian a few months ago, she said.
Anoushka said she expects to tackle another major project later this year, one that she hopes will earn her a Gold Award, a goal reached by less than 6% of all Girl Scouts. She hasn’t settled on the specifics yet but expects the project will most likely deal with the topic of animal cruelty or possibly premature babies.
In addition to the Girl Scout Silver award, her mini-libraries project also earned the Girl Scout Council’s Young Women of Distinction Award and has been nominated by Lambert High School Principal Gary Davison for a Prudential Spirit of Community Award.
Anoushka’s parents, who are from India, have made helping premature babies a family affair. The family regularly participates in the annual March of Dimes walk and other fundraisers.
Victoria Stamps, development manager for the Georgia March of Dimes, said Anoushka, with her mini-libraries project, was determined to give back in a way that was meaningful to her family and the families of babies in NICU.
“The NICU journey is an unexpected one, and most parents don’t have a hospital bag packed yet or plan for the extended stay. A bag of snacks or a book to read to their newborns is received so graciously,” Stamps said. “The books donated by Anoushka provide another way to connect with their little ones, and that means so much to parents.”
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