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Edgeworth student leads toothbrush, toothpaste drive

| Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

The simple — yet tedious —task of brushing teeth twice a day is something many take for granted.

In Swaziland, South Africa, Quaker Valley alum Darah Boucher is serving as part of the Peace Corps, working diligently to provide basic necessities to members of her village.

Enlisting the help of family friend Edgeworth Elementary fifth-grader Liam Welge, a toothbrush and toothpaste drive was established at the school.

Welge is working with other students who belong to the Ledge Crew — the “leaders” of Edgeworth Elementary who ensure that the school environment is a welcoming place for all who attend.

Liam's mother, Jodie, said the drive is an effort by Boucher to help the extremely poor region.

“Darah wants to start a dental hygiene program in Swaziland,” Jodie Welge said. “Liam has led other drives, like the Mister Rogers' sweater drive and a book drive, so he was eager to help.”

The fifth grader initially set a goal of 2,000 units — one toothbrush to one toothpaste.

Liam had an initial deadline of Dec. 15, but he exceeded that goal and set a new milestone of 4,000 units to collect.

“I want to do more,” Liam said. “We can probably collect 5,000 units,” he said.

In addition to a dental hygiene program, Boucher has raised funds to repair a daycare playground, provide Bibles to those in need, start a library in a few elementary schools and started a women's empowerment group that now has nearly 50 Swaziland women who attend. Boucher's mother Linda Pell, said the 2011 Quaker Valley graduate had always wanted to visit Africa, even as a child.

“From the time she was a little girl, she wanted to go to Africa to see the land and animals. Her reasons for being there now are different, but I can't help but to feel like life has come full-circle,” Pell said.

Graduating cum laude and as a member of the Golden Key Honor Society from Fisher College in Boston, the psychology major began seeking internships that tapped into the AIDS and HIV epidemics. She joined the Peace Corps in 2015 to share her knowledge abroad of the epidemics, educating men, women and children in Swaziland, South Africa, where she's been since June 2016.

Initially, Boucher traveled to the continent to educate as many as she could about disease prevention, care and treatment, but according to Pell, grew into her own after arriving and observing the situation.

“The Peace Corps members live exactly as the villagers,” Pell said. “She's in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere. The average age in her village is 20 years old, but they're so happy. When you see the people, who have nothing, and they're absolutely joyous — it's amazing.”

Pell also said that Boucher feels more aligned with helping women and children, which is why she is focused on first getting toothbrushes to children.

The process of getting the supplies is a bit complicated, Pell said, due to corruption that trickles down to the poorest of the population.

“Sometimes, it can take up to two or three months to get a package to Darah,” Pell said. “You learn tricks.”

Those “tricks” including sending packages adorned with religious symbols, Pell said. And even then, “they might be intercepted.”

But Liam Welge, his fellow Ledge Crew members and those in the Sewickley Valley won't be deterred.

“The goodwill of the community has stepped up to support Liam and Darah,” Jodie Welge said.

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