Samantha Lane builds brighter futures

Bailey Moskowitz and Sofia Ponos

Committed Girl Scout and James Madison high school student, Samantha Lane (’18), earned her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts which requires an innovative act of community service,  in May 2016 by designing a project that educated underprivileged girls in the Dominican Republic about dental hygiene.

“My Gold Award Project came to mind when I got braces,” Lane said, “I was really insecure about my smile, and I didn’t want to open my mouth to anyone, so I figured with the confidence that I had without my braces with a nice smile I could do all these things and present myself so much better to everyone. With the confidence of a toothbrush and toothpaste and a bright smile, underprivileged [children] could make better futures for themselves.”
After her Gold Award project was completed, Lane decided to take her personal hygiene education to a new continent. Her goal was to use all she had learned from her Gold Award project to continue to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all nations”.

“I didn’t want my project to end just there [in the Dominican Republic]. I met so many wonderful kids, actually close to 1,000, 2,000 kids when I was in the Dominican Republic, and I was so inspired by their reactions,” Lane said, “Just giving them a little baggie with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss, their faces lit up immediately.”

This time, Lane traveled to Swaziland, a country that faces many challenges with poverty and underdevelopment. It has the highest Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) rate in the world, which leaves many children orphaned and HIV positive themselves. Swaziland also has the highest rate of Tuberculosis (TB) in the world. The combination of TB and HIV infections, which is common in Swaziland, leaves people at a higher risk of premature mortality given the body’s inability to fight most infections.

Lane stayed with orphans in Swaziland for two weeks during the summer of 2016 in order to educate them on the importance of personal hygiene. Before her project, Lane enlisted the help of her fellow Madison Dance Team members to assemble the hygiene kits that she distributed in Swaziland . While in Swaziland, Lane provided basic hygiene education on the importance of healthy hygiene, including how handwashing and toothbrushing can help prevent the spread of disease.  

“[The most important thing that I took away from the project is] the power that one person has to change the life of another. The power that you have to change the world is limitless if only you try,” Lane said.

Swaziland, like several other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is also grappling with one of the worst droughts in history. Consequently, many citizens have been unable to farm in order to sustain themselves. Hunger is a very real problem in communities across Swaziland, with 69% of the population living below the poverty line and most depending on international food programs to survive. Therefore, Lane also visited various communities to provide food to those who are starving.

“My whole experience in Swaziland was eye-opening in terms of the suffering that exists and the basic inequalities that make life even harder for women and girls,” Lane said. “I came away empowered in that I was able to engage, albeit in little ways when compared to the magnitude of the problems, to try to show that we can find ways to change the world for the better.”