Children in a remote town in north China's Shanxi Province have many reasons to smile thanks to a service project by a ninth-grader at the International School of Beijing (ISB).
Diana Y, a student in the High School Futures Academy, established an oral health education program last month in Lishi, Shanxi.
During the Labor Day weekend in May, she visited the town and spoke to children, parents, and teachers to educate them on the importance of oral hygiene.
In addition to her talk, she used her own savings to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for villagers.
"My program mainly targets children, but I also focus on educating adults to encourage them to set healthy habits," she said.
Diana originally wanted her Futures Academy project to help Syrian refugees. After some research, she was surprised to learn one of their most critical issues is oral health.
"I then found out that this same issue is a problem in rural China," she said, adding that Lishi, her mother's hometown, emerged as an ideal place to launch her program.
"When I shared the idea with my parents, they were even more excited than me," said Diana, whose father is a dentist.
Diana was invited to speak at two schools, one an elementary school and another a mountainside school of 50 children aged between 8 and 18.
While speaking to big audiences was daunting, parents at each school were overwhelmingly supportive – even though some had interesting views about oral health.
"There was one mom who, after I told her about cavities, attributed it to genetics and said they couldn't be prevented," said Diana.
Diana will return to Lishi over the summer break to further promote her program. Her efforts recently earned support from consumer goods giant P&G, which will sponsor her with dental products, and Yitianshi, an NGO Diana credits as "extremely helpful" in teaching her the logistics of running a sustainable program.
As a core value at ISB, service prepares engaged global citizens committed to contributing to the world around them. Diana said her experience of real-world, service learning had inspired her to embrace challenges.
"The biggest lesson I learned was the value of getting out of my comfort zone. When meetings were arranged with school principals in Lishi, I was originally reluctant because I was anxious about speaking," she said,
"The amount of trust I received from kids and adults gave me a lot of confidence."