She was a premature baby. Now this teen is setting up hospital libraries so babies born early like her can hear their parents read
Updated 7:56 AM ET, Thu March 5, 2020
(CNN)Anouskha Talwar first knew her dad only as a distant voice.
Born premature at 27 weeks, she spent her first three months of life inside an incubator at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
But every day her father would sit beside her, talking, singing and reading stories. His voice was the only way he could embrace her and create a bond.
"I saw pictures of him sitting next to the incubator that I was in, just trying to be with me," Anoushka, now a 14-year-old ninth grader at Lambert High School in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, told CNN.
"And that is really important, and so I wanted to help other parents connect with their premature babies."
Libraries for reading aloud
For her Girl Scout's service project, Anoushka decided she would create mini-libraries of children's books for hospital neonatal intensive care units.
"I thought I would collect 100 books, and I went house-to-house and asked as many people as I could," Anoushka said. "At first it was quite hard, but I didn't give up. So, if anyone does a project like this, just don't give up. I ended up collecting 450 books!"
This was more than enough for two mini-libraries. Anoushka worked with the March of Dimes to place a library in the NICU at the Scottish Rite Hospital of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and another one in the NICU for the Emory Johns Creek Hospital.
Anoushka only puts hardcover books into the libraries because they are relatively easy to disinfect.
The paperback books are put into care packages for parents to take home, so they can continue reading to their babies.
"My dad would tell me that reading to babies, especially premature babies, would help their brain's develop," Anoushka said.
And studies show that reading aloud to children born preterm is associated with higher cognitive development.
Finding her voice for her brother
Anoushka had the opportunity to do just that when she was 8 years old and her brother Shiv was born premature at 26 weeks.
It was scary for her to see her new brother so small and frail, weighing only about two pounds. Her parents encouraged Anoushka to let him hear her soothing voice.
"I remember talking to my brother, telling him about my day, and I would read some of my little books to my brother," she said.
Anoushka still enjoys reading aloud to her brother, who is now 6.
And she has earned the Girl Scout Silver award and the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta Council's Young Women of Distinction Award for completing this service project.
But for Anoushka, all of her work came full circle when she was delivering books to one of the hospitals and ran into Dr. Leslie Leigh, the neonatologist who oversaw her brother's care when he was in the NICU.
"He was excited, and it makes me really happy to see how what I did is going to affect people lives"