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17 awards and counting

Second-year student Simran Vedvyas adds to her list of accomplishments every year, and plans on bringing her international NGO to Scarborough.

Simran Vedvyas recalls a gift from her grandfather after graduating from kindergarten — a wheat seed accompanied with a letter that said, “you reap what you sow.” The gesture stuck with the young Vedvyas and continues to act as a base from which she leads her life today.

By the age of six, Vedvyas was regularly involved with the Emirates Environmental Group – one of the most active environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She began her involvement with their recycling programs by collecting items such as cans, paper and toner.

This sparked the beginning of a long list of outreach activities for Vedvyas, and at seven, she had already organized an international health initiative. Diabetic foot is a condition derived from infections in those suffering with diabetes and in countries in Africa, exacerbated by rough terrain and a lack proper health care and footwear. This condition often leads to amputation of the foot. Eleven-year-old Vedvyas began collecting used shoes from locals in her Dubai community to send to Africa for patients suffering from diabetes.

 “I would ship the shoes via pharmaceutical companies to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. They would go to the village hospitals as an incentive program to encourage people to visit the hospital for regular check-ups to get their shoes.”

After expanding this project to sending glucose monitors and sugar-tracking diaries, Vedvyas began receiving recognition. In the 2012 London Olympics, at 13, Vedvyas was chosen as one of the youngest torch bearers.

 “I came back from the Olympics and I realized that I had done this much on my own, I just imagined what I could do if I had my friends and family helping me.”

She started her own NGO, SynergY, with 25 of her friends and family immediately after returning from the Olympics. The organization began as waste management education and grew into a natural landscaping and environmental project. They planted more than 3,000 trees around Dubai to balance the carbon dioxide and oxygen emissions and filter toxins in the air. “Once we got into natural landscaping we realized that this could actually work,” she says.

From there, the organization grew and began collaborating with international partners and local community on projects involving health and safety and education empowerment. Collaborations led to many community events organized by SynergY aimed at serving these initiatives.

In her first year at U of T Scarborough, Vedvyas learned that she had won a Times Now NRI (Non-Residential Indian) of the Year award – an award that recognizes the achievements of Indians living outside of the country – in the academics category. Her qualifications for the NRI of the Year award include the six international UAE academic awards Vedvyas received in high school, a Diana Award for international youth excellence, a John Muir Conservation Award for environmental advocacy among many others.

“Once you win an award, you always have to do something a little bit more,” she says. “There is a constant growth process for me, I have to keep working and improving myself.”

Vedvyas spent her first year living in Residence and has been appointed Vice-President of the UTSC Students of Sociology, as well as Director of Speaker Relations at TEDxUTSC. She also starts as a Resident Advisor (RA) this year. “It’s going to be fun being on the other side of the lens and play the role of imparting knowledge and guidance, as my RA did with me.”

Her enrollment at U of T Scarborough has given her the opportunity to become familiar with another community and surrounding issues. With this insight, she is excited to begin collaborating and planning SynergY events geared toward the Scarborough community.

© University of Toronto Scarborough