When Saachi Bhayani mulled over ideas for her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she knew she wanted to help underserved youngsters in India.
"My whole idea was to start an early education center for visually impaired children," recalled Bhayani, who just finished her sophomore year at Foothill High School. "I met with this nonprofit CEO who works with a lot of visually impaired all over the world who said, 'I know people at this school who totally need your help.'"
Bhayani was put in touch with the National Association for the Blind in India and a school in Faridabad, the biggest city in the Indian state of Haryana.
"They didn't have a preschool, and I think preschool is pretty important," Bhayani said.
She wrote up the proposal, had the project approved last year in April, and got to work assembling two teams, one in Pleasanton and one in India.
"With India, there were lots of phone calls, texts and voicemails between us," she remembered.
Her local team was busy last spring, summer and fall, holding toy drives and soliciting donations from companies, including sets of braille alphabets and numbers.
They also designed tactile puzzles and laser cut the thin wooden pieces for the preschool, and, one by one, added nubs to dominoes and Chinese checkers so visually impaired children could identify them by touch.
Legos, stuffed animals and games poured in, which Bhayani sorted and packed into huge boxes, one containing a veritable fleet of toy trucks in all sizes.
The next challenge was transporting everything to the other side of the world.
"A lot of my friends and their families were going to India, so they would take boxes and ship them from there," Bhayani said, which helped enormously with shipping costs.
"My team in India was helping me with logistics because I couldn't be there," she added.
The children assembled in the prepared classroom and the boxes began to arrive, to the delight of students and staff, who sent back photos of the happy events.
"The best part was, month after month, opening all these pictures and seeing the smiles on all these children's faces," Bhayani said. "It really hit me what an impact I have made. They are still sending me pictures."
Part of her Gold Award project was creating the nonprofit organization, Tactiles for Tots, including a website, to help start other centers in India.
"I was thinking that if I could do this in one place, I could do it in other places," Bhayani said. "I thought I would start an organization so it could continue on."
Currently her father Sachin and brother Suchit serve as CFO and secretary, respectively, but she plans to eventually turn the leadership over to someone else.
Bhayani last visited India in December 2017 but has not yet been to Faridabad.
"I want to go; that is now definitely on my bucket list," she said.
Bhayani, a member of Troop 30821, started Scouting as a Brownie, went on to earn her Bronze Award in the fifth grade and her Silver Award in the eighth grade. She knew she also wanted to earn her Gold Award, which few Scouts do.
"When I was a high school freshman, I thought, 'I should start now and finish before my junior year,'" she recalled.
Her friends rallied round to help, she noted, as did her family, with parents Sachin and Rita taking her to purchase supplies since she is still too young to drive.
"It went better than what I could have imagined," Bhayani said.
She recently concluded the project and received her Gold Award, the highest honor for a Girl Scout, and she will continue with Scouting until her senior year of high school.
"It is an honor to bestow the Gold Award to exceptional girls like Saachi whose commitment and initiative betters themselves and the world around them," said Marina Park, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern California.