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Grace O'Halloran Helps Kenyan Kids See Their Possibilities

The 13-year-old founder of "Gracie's Glasses" is this week's Whiz Kid.

Thirteen-year-old Grace O’Halloran has been wearing glasses since she was three years old.

An unusual math project during fifth grade at inspired "Gracie's Glasses" — a collection of used eyeglasses for an impoverished village in Kenya.

NCCS teacher Kristen Ball, spent the summer of 2005 living in the African village of Sauri, where she saw first-hand the plight of the local children.

When she returned, Ball challenged her Country School class to come up with a solution to relieve some of the Kenyan students' needs.  

“Imagine you have been awarded $1,000,000 to bring a village out of extreme poverty," she told her students. "How would you spend the money?" 

Her class could not go over budget and had to prove the villagers would be healthy and on their way to being educated and self-sufficient, once their plan was implemented.

Inspired by this real-life situation, the students researched the village's living conditions, developed a budget plan, itemized accounting sheets, and a PowerPoint presentation to share with their classmates.

O'Halloran's project focused on eye hygiene. "I put a lot of ‘money’ towards eye care,” she said, when she learned that the villagers in Sauri barely have hygienic bandages, let alone eyeglasses.

“After the project, I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could use real money and really help these people," she said. 

She started "Gracie's Glasses" by collecting used eyeglasses. The professionals at in New Canaan determined the prescriptions.

O'Halloran is working with the Millennium Promise organization to distribute more than 200 pairs of donated eyeglasses to the Kenyan people who need them.

"Clear vision could help change a life!” she said.

Eyeglasses are collected on an ongoing basis and can be dropped off in "Gracie's Glasses" boxes in the main building at New Canaan Country School and the front vestibule of in New Canaan. 

“I know that if I never had glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as many things as I have," O'Halloran said. "I can’t imagine having blurred vision. It would be extremely hard to read, write, drive, and do many more necessary actions." 

She described how she envisioned people in poverty, trying to go through daily tasks, barely being able to see the ground in front of them.

"Children in the village I learned about have to carry a pail of water and large sack of grain and beans to school for lunch. It’s not as if they just put it in the trunk of the car. they walk several miles each day to school," she said.

"Without clear vision, they could stumble and spill all of their food and water," she added. "Once at school, they will not benefit from the lessons if they can’t see well.” 

Imagining and feeling what's it's like to see through another's eyes and walk in another's shoes on the other side of the world — is the key to O'Halloran's awesomeness.

She says she tries to live by this motto written by Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover."

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