Provided by Raiya Shah
Sporting a bright sun dress, 7-year-old Raiya Shah joins her dad at their brick-rimmed garden, eager to assist him as they plant and care for the seeds that would soon produce watermelons and pomegranates.
Together, they refresh the soil, bury the new seeds and seedlings and periodically water the plants as they grow. Although she was engulfed by the summer heat and at a risk for ruining her favorite dress, Raiya was unbothered; nothing beat being outdoors with her dad.
Ten years later, now a senior, Raiya continues to relive those moments with her family and community at her side. This time, planting and distributing herbs to foster a nutritious diet in homes around the Dallas Metroplex – also known as Seed Revolution.
This project stemmed out of Raiya’s path to earning a Girl’s Scout’s Gold Award, the highest distinction in the program. Now, with her Gold Award patch in hand, Raiya continues to grow with each planting season as she furthers her bond with her community and childhood.
“Those were special memories close to my heart,” Raiya said. “When I was volunteering at Metrocrest, I realized [how some people] had creative ideas on how they could use food to become more nutritious, but a lot of them didn’t really know how to implement it and how to incorporate nutrition fully into their lifestyle on their low income. So I decided to grow and pot fresh herbs [like] cilantro and basil to bring to them.”
Before she could implement her project, Raiya spent around four to six weeks crafting a project, proposal, timeline and budget, going to meetings and doing a Q&A with the Girl Scouts Panel to receive approval for her idea. Raiya’s mother, Sejal Shah, said she has seen her grow in her communication and leadership style through this project.
“She had a lot of meetings [at Metrocrest] in the beginning when she first started the project,” Sejal said. “[In] the first meeting, she wasn’t very organized and didn’t have everything together but she saw how the first one went and then figured out what to ask and how to organize herself. By the time we were rolling out the project, she was having meetings with everyone and knew what to do and what to say.”
Upon completing the necessary paperwork and receiving the clearance for her proposal, Raiya sought out Calloway’s for discounts on the plants she would distribute to her first clients.
“The lady [at Calloway’s] thought I should grow them on my own to really understand the process,” Raiya said. “So she gave me 50 seeds to turn into seedlings and I started there. After that, we did a combination of seeds and seedlings and whichever came out the best we distributed.”
So far, Raiya has put in about 300 hours into her three distributions of fresh herbs to her clients at Metrocrest, all accompanied by an instructional pamphlet and YouTube video.
“Some of the challenges I faced were unpredictability with the growing of plants,” Raiya said. “During distribution, there were language barriers and educating people on the importance of fresh foods. The founder of Girl Scouts said she started the program to unite girls by ideals, and I feel like this project let me connect with people of all backgrounds in our community through our shared goals and ideals.”
Some of Raiya’s clients have come back a second or third time after their success with growing and incorporating the herbs into their diets. One submitted feedback form said: “Metrocrest and North Texas Food Bank has taught me all that I know about the benefit of fresh herbs and I love the service. [I] appreciate you all so much. Now I am inspired to start my own herb container gardening.”
Raiya’s endeavor through Seed Revolution has also earned her recognition from all around the country, among them including the White House, Senate, Marines and the state.
“We didn’t know any of that was going to happen,” Sejal said. “We started getting awards and letters in the mail and it was really exciting that people knew what she was working on and they care about it and they shared her enthusiasm about it.”
Looking back at her involvement in her community, Raiya said the projects made her realize the passion she has for humanitarian projects and have made a difference in her life as well as others.
“I really think a lot of it is about leadership and voice,” Raiya said. “Of course you care, but the challenge is to make everyone else care as much as you do. So, that’s been a really rewarding thing to learn how to do.”