Several inspiring Indian American teens were announced as winners of the 2016 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, accounting for nearly a third of the 15 named.
Anurudh Ganesan, Raghav Ganesh, Meghana Reddy, and Pooja Nagpal were among the winners announced by Barron Prize officials Sept. 19, along with Indo-Canadian Maya Burhanpurkar.
The prize, established in 2001 by author T.A. Barron, celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people, ages 8 to 18, from diverse backgrounds, who have made significant positive impact on people, their communities and the environment.
“Nothing is more inspiring than stories about heroic people who have truly made a difference to the world,” Barron said in a statement. “The goal of the Barron Prize is to shine the spotlight on these amazing young people so that their example will encourage others to take action.”
Ganesan, 16, of Maryland, invented the VAXXWAGON, a wheel-powered cooling system that keeps vaccines viable during the final stages of transport to remote locations.
His system can be hitched to a bike or simply pulled by a person or animal for the critical last leg of a vaccine’s journey, usually five to 10 miles.
His “no ice, no electricity” design accounts for the lack of water and electricity in so many remote locations of the world, according to the Barron Prize bio.
Ganesan's idea was born of his own vaccination experience in India, where his grandparents carried him as an infant 10 miles to a remote village to receive a vaccine only to find that it had overheated and was no longer viable.
The Indian American teen was able to receive the vaccine the next day but realized that so many others aren’t as lucky, with 4,000 children dying every day from vaccine-preventable diseases.
He decided that solving the problem of last-leg transport could help and spent months formulating his ideas on paper.
He took his initial design to professors at nearby Johns Hopkins University, who not only validated it but offered funding. After nearly two years of refining a half-dozen prototypes, he has tested his latest design for 200 hours and has a patent pending, with plans to scale up and get the device to those in need.
“I’m committed to seeing this project through to the next phase,” he told Barron Prize. “I will have succeeded when the first person’s life is saved because of VAXXWAGON.”
Ganesh, 14, of California, invented SmartWalk, a 21st century version of the white cane used by the visually impaired that includes electronic “eyes” to better help the blind navigate obstacles.
His clip-on electronic attachment — housed in a box about the size of two decks of cards — allows users to sense objects well beyond the usual reach of the white cane.
As people sweep SmartWalk back and forth, the cane vibrates to warn them of knee-high objects as far as 10 feet ahead. The intensity of the vibration indicates the distance of the obstacle and the vibrations stop once the path is clear.
Ganesh worked for months with his local blind center to test his invention. The Indian American youth used funds from a small grant to make multiples copies of the device and donated them to the blind center.
Additionally, he published the design, allowing other nonprofits to produce and distribute the device to those in need. For his invention, the California teen won first place in the state science fair, as well as numerous accolades from other competitions.
Working under the motto “Service Through Science,” Ganesh has also invented a wearable device that can predict and prevent autistic outbursts.
“These experiences have taught me what it takes to translate technology from a concept to the real world where it can benefit and help people,” he said in his bio.
Reddy, 17, of California, founded Limbs with Love, a nonprofit that creates and provides 3D-printed prosthetic hands free-of-charge to children in need all over the world.
Since 2014, she has produced and donated nearly 90 prosthetic hands to children in the U.S. and India.
Reddy began her work following a family trip to India, where she volunteered at an orphanage and befriended two young children with missing limbs. Realizing they had little hope of receiving a prosthetic, Reddy looked online for low-cost alternatives and discovered it was possible using 3D printers.
With a team of peers, Reddy has perfected the lengthy process behind each prosthetic hand.
One team member corresponds with the recipient to receive pictures and measurements while another uses special software and eventually Computer Aided Engineering to complete the hand design. Finally, the design files are imported to the 3D printer which prints the parts that are then assembled like a puzzle into the final product.
Reddy is currently developing a prosthetic hand controlled by electronics to increase finger functionality and sensory perception. The young Indian American is also working to start 3D printer clubs in her community to encourage more students to learn to use the technology for good.
Nagpal, 18, of California, created ‘For a Change, Defend’, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating gender violence and empowering young girls and women. Trained in Taekwondo and street fighting, she has developed a self-defense curriculum and has used it to train over 800 women and girls in the slums and rural villages of India.
Nagpal, a second-degree black belt, has worked with the government of India and former UN police commissioner to promote strong women and responsible men in the villages of Northern India.
Her curriculum has been implemented in government schools, blind institutes for girls, orphanages and colleges, and has been certified by the District of Education in Chandigarh to be implemented in over 450 schools in the near future.
Nagpal has recently focused on teaching self-defense to victims of sex trafficking in poverty-stricken villages near Delhi, providing support and increasing protection for those who are most vulnerable.
Closer to home, the Barron Prize said, the Indian American teen has spoken about the importance of empowering women at venues including the United Nations and TED Talks, and has taught teen dating violence prevention in underrepresented schools in Los Angeles.
She is currently working on a women’s safety app for college students that alarms when shaken and sends a GPS location to police and emergency contacts.
“I see an opportunity for change and an obligation to serve as the change-maker,” Nagpal said in her bio.
Burhanpurkar, 17, of Ontario, Canada, created “440PPM,” a documentary film that tells the story of her expedition to the Arctic where she witnessed climate change firsthand.
Her film — for the 2013 atmospheric measurement of carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million, the highest levels in more than 2.5 million years — focuses on the Arctic’s Inuit people, whose lives have been dramatically impacted by a warming climate and melting ice.
The film was produced through STAMx Youth Inc., a non-profit she founded to use STEM to empower young people to take action against climate change.
Burhanpurkar’s climate change passion began at age 14, when she joined scientists and other students on a research expedition to the Arctic. Initially intending to shoot a home video, she documented the unanticipated and disturbing stories of the native people, who explained how melting ice is destroying their ability to hunt and fish and provide for their families.
She later decided to produce a full-fledged documentary, with Canadian dignitaries including novelist and activist Margaret Atwood agreeing to be a part of her film.
Nearly two years in the making, “400PPM” was released in 2015 as a non-profit, open-source documentary film. It has been shown around the world and is projected to reach an audience of more than 2.2 million students.
“There were many late nights when I contemplated giving up on my project and getting a good night’s sleep,” Burhanpurkar told the Barron Prize. “I’m so glad I didn’t.”
Each of the 15 winners received a $5,000 award to support their service work or higher education.
Since its inception, the Barron Prize has awarded more than $500,000 to hundreds of young leaders and has won the support of the National Geographic Education Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA and National Youth Leadership Council, among other organizations.
Applications for young leaders in the U.S. and Canada for the 2017 prize begins Jan. 2, 2017 and runs through April 15, 2017. More information can be found at www.barronprize.org.