Taylor Knoop looks like a regular teenager. She’s medium height, with bright eyes, fair skin and a winning smile. An East Greenwich High School senior, Taylor likes Girl Scouts, riding horses and travel. It all sounds normal enough.
But ask where she’s traveled and you get a glimpse of what makes Taylor stand out. Because she spent last semester - at age 16 - in the tiny mountain village of Ladakh in northern India, on an exchange program. She went there because of an overwhelming desire to see the world. She returned with an overwhelming desire to give back to that part of the world.
And so, this Friday night at , Taylor will be selling malas - Buddist prayer beads - at the Homecoming football game, in an effort to raise $11,000 for an artificial glacier for the people of Ladakh.
Ladakh is in the Himalayas and relies on snow melt to provide water for its crops. But with climate change speeding up the snow melt every year, villagers realized that soon the snow would be melting ahead of the growing season - imperiling their crops.
A Ladakhi man devised a solution - an artificial glacier which could be used as a controlled water source - but the village needs $11,000 to install it. The money is needed for pipes and insulation and to pay for those items to be transported to the village.
That’s where Taylor, 17, and her exchange-student friend Moya Cavanagh of Vermont come in. They both fell in love with the people of Ladakh and the place itself during their months there. To think that the villagers could be denied a way to make a living for want of $11,000 - “we were like, there’s something wrong with this,” recalls Taylor.
They knew that raising $11,000 would be far easier in the U.S. than in Ladakh.
The girls came home with a mission and promptly established WorldYato, an organization dedicated to providing money to small communities that have sustainable plans to better their standard of living. The organization gets its name from the Ladakhi word “yato,” which means both “friend” and “help.” According to Taylor, they are seeking nonprofit status.
Taylor built the WorldYato website and Cavanagh started making malas, lots of malas. Knoop convinced the EGHS Student Council to let her sell the malas during spirit week. The strands - which can be worn as bracelets (looped around a few times) or necklaces, will be sold at the Homecoming Football game Friday night.
Priced at $10 and $20 a strand, the beads won’t be the sole fundraiser for the fledgling organization. Taylor says they will be applying for grants too. She's using her as the basis for her Senior Project.
It’s been a lot for Taylor, who is also going through the college application process this semester. But to hear her mother Kathleen O'Rourke tell it, Taylor has always looking at the big picture.
On Christmas morning when Taylor was only 3 years old, relates O'Rourke, she took one look at the spread in front of her and said, “Oh, Daddy, he did a really good job,” about Santa’s handiwork.
“I’m so used to her that I forget to be impressed,” says O’Rourke. Not that she wasn’t at least a bit apprehensive about letting Taylor go to India.Taylor had already been to China (at age 15), but that was on a very controlled program and the rest of the family - Taylor’s sister McKinley, a EGHS sophomore, her mom and dad - went to China as well. “I wanted to be at least on the same continent,” said O’Rourke.
When it came to Taylor going to India (she went with VIS), O’Rourke says she knew she could trust her daughter.
“You get more comfortable in believing in their skills and their abilities,” she says.
EGHS science teacher Nicholas Rath says he’s completely impressed by Taylor.
“Every so often, a student comes along who is passionate about an issue and keen to make a difference to our world, and Taylor is such a person,” he says. “Her experience in India provided her with a strong and healthy understanding of the plight of so many people less fortunate than those here in the U.S.A.”
For Taylor, her time in India and what she’s doing now make her feel alive. “This is what I’ve been looking for - to live every moment.”
If you want to donate to WorldYato, buy a mala online and learn more about Ladakh, click here. Or stop by Taylor's sale at the Homecoming Game Friday night!