Western's visionaries want to change the world

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Injustice and suffering are ubiquitous and sympathetic onlookers are numerous, but bold visionaries seeking change are few. However, Western has more than a few bold visionaries in its midst.

Dev Aujla
Founder of DreamNow.org
While jogging one day, Dev Aujla, then a first-year English student at Western, became inspired to change a world he felt was made more uncertain by the then-recently announced War on Terror.

“I had just finished talking on the phone to a friend of mine who recently got back from Afghanistan,” Aujla says. “She was telling me about a family she met, and she told me they were afraid, they had heard the Americans had nuclear-tipped rockets.

“I decided that I had to do something bigger. Something that could have a greater effect on the world beyond just me.”

Soon after, Aujla developed DreamNow.org, an online resource linking people looking to start their own grass-roots initiatives with other project starters. The site hosts projects based in North America, South America, Africa and Asia focusing on issues from cultural diversity to sustainable urban transportation.

“The greatest obstacles I faced were ones I constructed for myself,” Aujla says. He has worked full-time on DreamNow since graduating last May.

“I hope to enable thousands of people to turn a single moment of inspiration into a lifetime of action,” Aujla says.

Aujla says those thinking of starting their own project should make their dreams known.

“Talk, talk, talk and tell everyone what you are doing as if it’s already happening and before you know it, it does happen and you have staff, an office and a full-time job.”

Ogi Visnjevac and Fred Ma
Cofounders of the Central
American Relief Project
Fourth-year plant sciences student Ogi Visnjevac had a similar moment of inspiration while volunteering last summer at Guatemala City’s Instituto de Cancerología, the only Central American hospital dedicated to cancer treatment.

“[I] saw the poor state of the hospital facility and the lack of resources [and] supplies they had,” he says. “Much of what they received had been donated and much of the equipment was aging... [I] later found out that other hospitals and clinics were in even worse shape.”

Upon returning to Canada, Visnjevac teamed with close friend Fred Ma, a fourth-year biochemistry student, and set out to send desperately needed basic supplies to the clinics. Their club, the Central American Relief Project, grew to over 200 people and four Canadian chapters in a few months last fall.

They sent their first shipment in December to a clinic in Flores, Guatemala that has a graduate nurse, no physicians, and services up to 15,000 square kilometres.

“[We] want to see a change, no matter how small,” Ma says. “As long as a life is saved or the quality of life improved, all these efforts will be worthwhile... Basically, our goal is to provide basic health care because it’s sadly non-existent in too many places.”

Faced with the challenge of obtaining members and funds, Visnjevac and Ma quickly developed a website to reach out to the community and raised $500 selling candy at Jack’s.

After reading an article about CARP in The Gazette, a nurse in the community donated supplies left over from a planned trip to India. With the help of Spanish-speaking members, the CARP team then located and contacted several health-care groups in need in Guatemala. One CARP member travelling to Guatemala in December with a team of dentists took the shipment in place of clothes in his suitcase.

“Every time someone said something can’t be done, we said we’re doing it and found a way,” Ma says, adding they’re currently organizing the next shipment and looking for better ways to ship the donated supplies.

Visnjevac and Ma say they encourage anyone with dreams of helping others to take action.

“We’re changing the health-care system in countries that are about 4,000 kilometres away. How? Simply because we chose to,” Ma says.

“Do it. It’s worth it.”

Rjan Suppiah and Dinesh Krishna
Founders of the India Health Initiative
A belief in universal access to health care inspired 2003 health sciences alumnus Rajan Suppiah and 2003 and 2006 medical resident MD Dinesh Krishna to start the India Health Initiative, which sends students from occupational therapy, nursing, and medicine and professionals from teaching and physiotherapy to various places in India.

While conducting a study on the status of services for the disabled in rural South India, the pair concluded there was a need for more awareness of disability in rural areas, more rehab/medical professionals and more resources and services for the poor and disabled.

Three teams of health professionals and health science students have since travelled to India under IHI. The projects included teaching English and first aid to disabled youth; providing HIV/AIDS and sexual education to youth; tsunami fundraising and equipment collection; and providing medical, occupational therapy and physical therapy services, including dance and drama therapy.

But the move from inspiration to action doesn’t happen overnight, Rappiah says

“Running a charity/volunteer organization is a lot of work, and it’s not easy. People do not just sign up because of the word charity. In the real world, you have to prove to people why your cause... is worthy.

“Fundraising is the biggest difficulty as there is a large amount of student volunteer and international organizations.”

Rappiah adds IHI worked around this by addressing a niche audience such as health-care professionals of Indian origin and previous IHI volunteers.

“Make monthly/yearly goals, and make them realistic,” Suppiah says. “Don’t try to hit a home run in your rookie year. If you’re dedicated enough to your cause, then you’ll be patient enough to wait.”

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