Two Indian American teens Sonali Ranaweera, 14, of California, and Deepika Kurup, 17, of New Hampshire were among the awardees for the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes – 2015.
The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes announced its 2015 winners as it marks fifteen years of recognizing outstanding youth. The Barron Prize celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people from diverse backgrounds all across North America. Established in 2001 by author T.A. Barron, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment. The top fifteen winners each receive $5,000 to support their service work or higher education.
Deepika Kurup has invented a practical, low cost, and sustainable method to purify contaminated water. Her solar-powered device destroys bacteria in wastewater within 15 minutes of filtration and exposure to sunlight. Because it is completely solar powered and its materials do not become depleted, the device can easily be used in developing countries and can be scaled-up for large water purification systems. She has two patents pending and in 2012, was named America’s Top Young Scientist as the national winner of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Deepika was inspired to begin her work three years ago following a trip to India to visit her grandparents, where she saw children collecting and drinking polluted water from nearby streams. She learned that worldwide, many children spend more time collecting water than attending school and that 4,000 children die each day from water-related diseases. Convinced that she could create an easy way to filter water, she began conducting research at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, where an engineering professor supervised her work, which combines materials science, photochemistry, and biology. Deepika is committed to educating children about the importance of clean water and has spoken to groups and schools around the world. “My work has taught me to be persistent and not give up, and I feel it’s made me a more enlightened and humble person,” says Deepika.
Sonali Ranaweera created Recycling4Smiles and has raised over $40,000 by redeeming recyclable cans and bottles to fund 44 cleft lip surgeries. She has also funded dental care for over 1,000 rural children in Sri Lanka and has provided school supplies, clothing, and school lunches for hundreds of children in need around the world.
Sonali launched her project as an 11-year-old, when she received $100 from her parents at Christmastime with the stipulation she use it to make a difference in someone’s life. She decided to raise an additional $150 in order to fund one cleft lip surgery through Smile Train, and to do so by collecting and redeeming recyclables, which she was learning about in her sixth grade science class. When she easily met her first goal, she set her next at $2,000. Three years later, she has collected and redeemed well over a half-million recyclables. Outfitted in long rubber gloves and with help from her brother and friends, Sonali collects, sorts, and redeems 2,000 cans and bottles in order to raise each $100. She regularly collects recyclables from a number of businesses and receives bag upon bag of bottles and cans on her doorstep. “I’ve learned that you can make a difference in the lives of others and help our earth without needing to have a lot of money or power,” says Sonali. “Nothing is impossible if you are dedicated to a cause.”