Meet Vidushi: Fearless Leader of the PHC

Posted by on Nov 30, 2016 in Blog | No Comments

This is Vidushi.

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She’s a 4th year Public Health and Safety student at Ryerson University. She’s a food lover and explorer. She’s a self-dubbed master of comedy. But here at the PHC, we like to describe her as our fearless leader.

As the Director of the Planetary Health Commission, a student group founded on the idea of global citizenship, it’s safe to say Vidushi is a loud and prominent voice for the cause. She describes it as “the awareness that everything is interconnected and that our actions have a rippling affect, both locally and globally.” She adds, “No pressure.”

Vidushi’s passion for educating and inspiring others is what makes her perfect for the Director’s chair. So, how did she end up there in the first place?

“Honestly, it was all by chance,” she says.

The PHC started with an online newsletter called the Planetary Health Weekly, created by Ryerson’s own world traveling, global health guru Dr. David Zakus. As soon as Vidushi saw it come through her email, she knew she wanted to get involved.

“At that point I was going through some personal struggles. I kept thinking what am I doing with my life? What is my purpose? Am I going to succeed in anything? And I know what you’re thinking: those are the questions of a person going through a midlife crisis. But I wanted to contribute to something bigger than me.”

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This was back in the summer of 2015. Inspired by the Planetary Health Weekly articles that showcased the latest news impacting the environment, global health, and scientific discoveries, Vidushi saw a stark contrast between Dr. David’s newsletter and the news she was exposed to through mainstream and social media.

“Remembering the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world,’ I forced myself to overcome my nerves of being rejected and emailed him in hopes I could volunteer my time in some small capacity,” Vidushi says. “But as many people know, small isn’t Dr. David’s style. His vision always goes further than what you expect. So after a short meeting with him, he invited me to a brainstorming session for updating the PHW to what you see today.”

That email marked the start of a new journey for Vidushi and her departure was fast and furious. Before she knew it, she was collaborating with a group of planetary pals to form the PHC.

“I was sitting there in the summer of my 2nd year and I was overwhelmed by how amazing the people surrounding me were” Vidushi recalls. “And they were asking me for my opinion! I was taken aback, to say the least. I was the youngest and least qualified person sitting at that table. I didn’t even know how to articulate my thoughts at the time. And now they can’t get me to shut up!”

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Thankfully she found her voice, because it’s stronger now than ever. And she feels like the PHC is a reflection of that voice.

“I like to say that the PHC team pays homage to the PHW in a local and global capacity,” Vidushi says. “By taking the contents of the newsletter and sharing it verbally through our conversations, physically through our events, and electronically via social media, we are taking steps to becoming better, well-informed global citizens.”

As one of the hands that helped build the PHC, Vidushi has a thing or two to say about our planet’s wellbeing. What motivates her to keep the conversation going?

“Food,” she says. “I’m not going to lie. When I first started university, I was inclined to attend events for the free food. But I would stay for the knowledge I acquired.”

Can’t argue with her there. But on a more serious note, Vidushi is critical of herself and pushes to grow as a leader and as a person.

“I have this thing where I notice problems easily,” Vidushi says. “But I like to turn that around and think about solutions and positive outcomes. A lot of people just like to complain. And it’s okay to complain! But at a certain point you have to react. Otherwise, you’re just part of the problem.”

In a world that feels oversaturated with problems, Vidushi sees the light in simple solutions – the answers that come from observing an issue with an open mind and understanding differences in perspectives and backgrounds. 

“My motivation originates from my need to help people. This trait, both a gift and a curse, was given to me by my mother. I grew up watching her put the needs of others ahead of her own,” she explains. “So when I found out the longest boil water advisory on an Aboriginal reserve was issued in 1995 – the year that I was born – it baffled my public health mind, to say the least. To learn that someone my age and kids even younger than me have never had access to clean and reliable water in Ontario is beyond troubling.”

Vidushi says that despite countless studies and years of research, our country has yet to make real, impactful strides in improving the health and safety of Aboriginal people.

“The sad reality is the story of our native people is not that different from the stories of native people all over the world,” she says. “Studying the global trends and history of oppression, it is hard to swallow how unjust the world has been, especially the deafening disparities between native and non-native people in regards to public health.”

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Vidushi’s favourite necklace: handmade by an Aboriginal artist and purchased at the Aboriginal History Month Celebration

When Vidushi speaks about these issues to others, she likes to use the words of Terentius Lucanus, as quoted by Dr. Maya Angelou: “I am a human being, and thus nothing human is alien to me.” When someone disagrees with her, she always goes back to this quote.

“Every human shares 99.9% of the same DNA. This is a powerful realization. We need to stop treating certain groups of people better than others,” Vidushi says. But this doesn’t mean she’s prepared to back down in the pursuit of communicating what she feels is right.

“When I talk about these issues – which is more often than not – I receive a few eye rolls and sighs from people I know. But that has never deterred me from speaking my mind.”

Vidushi is hugely inspired by the great thinkers who came before her, like Mahatma Ghandi and her personal hero Dr. Maya Angelou. For those interested in Angelou’s teachings, Vidushi recommends listening to Love Liberates, Just Do Right, I Am Human, and Rainbow in the Clouds. But when it comes to inspiration on a personal, everyday level, Vidushi can’t rave enough about the infamous Dr. David Zakus.

“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Dr. David,” Vidushi admits. “Every time I talk to him, I learn something new about the world and about myself. He is everything that a Ryerson professor should encompass. He gives opportunities to those who are open to it and always reaches out a helping hand.”

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With a strong-willed sense of what it means to be human, Vidushi is devoted to teaching the Ryerson community more about global citizenship, how to talk about it, and how every small action can have a limitless reaction.

When it comes to this boss lady, let’s just say the PHC is in very good hands.

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