Walk for Andrea – Finding a Cure for Food Allergies

In September of 2015, 18-year-old Andrea Valentin Mariano died a preventable death from an anaphylactic allergic reaction. Like many Canadian children, Andrea was severely allergic to dairy and peanuts. On just her second day of University she happened to not be carrying her epipen with her, and she bought a smoothie that either contained milk or peanuts. She was taken to the hospital immediately, where she died three days later.

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Andrea is not the only Canadian child who has suffered from severe allergies. In fact, 7.5 % of Canadians have a life threatening food allergy; that’s 1 in 13 Canadians or 2.5 million people (SPAACE, 2015). In Canada, the amount of emergency visits due to an anaphylaxis reaction has nearly doubled in the last 4 years (study from 2011-2015). Although someone can be allergic to any food, the top 10 most common allergens are: dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, wheat, sulfites, mustard, seafood.

What makes this issue and Andrea’s story so real and personal to me is that two of my younger cousins, Preeti and Arjun, suffer from severe food allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame seeds. I have been present at a family wedding where my cousin who was just 3 years old at the time had an anaphylactic reaction. My cousins mean the world so to me and I can’t imagine anything bad happening to them. It is because of them that I am passionate about raising awareness about food allergies and finding a cure.

cousins

I also have close family friends who have severe allergies to nuts, dairy, eggs, seafood, and soy. Unfortunately, right now there is no cure for food allergies and the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is strict avoidance of the allergen. That is why their parents, Jyoti and Peter, have created an organization called Walk for Andrea – Finding a Cure for Food Allergies. My family and friends, along with Andrea’s family have joined together to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for food allergies.

Walk for Andrea

  • Date: October 2nd, 2016.
  • Location: Milne Dam Conservation Park Trail (Markham, Ontario)
  • Time: 10am – 12pm

All the money raised from this event will be donated directly to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Program at Sick Kids Hospital to find a cure for food allergies. To make a difference and register for the Walk for Andrea go to: http://walkforandrea.ca/index.php/registration/. Or, if you don’t want to participate in the walk itself, you can still make a donation by heading to http://www.walkforandrea.ca and click the ‘Donate’ button. Sick Kids Foundation will provide tax receipts for all donations over $20.

To learn more about the walk and food allergies head to http://www.walkforandrea.ca.

Together we can help find a cure for food allergies. I hope to see YOU at the Walk for Andrea on Oct. 2. 2016!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂

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Child Marriage – A Global Issue

A few months ago was my last meeting with the Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau. For the last meeting we decided to host a “Speakers Symposium” where a few of the members had the opportunity to give a speech on an issue affecting girls that they are passionate about. I decided to do my speech on child marriage, which is an issue I am very passionate about and want to eradicate. Below is an excerpt from my speech:

Hello, my name is Lakshmi and I am a 14-year-old girl living in an impoverished community in Delhi, India. When I was 11, I was pulled out of school because my family didn’t have enough money for me to continue my education. At 12, I was married to a man who was twice my age, and currently I am raising two children.

Although Lakshmi is not a real person, there are more than 15 million girls like her that are married under the age of 18 around the world each year. That is the equivalent of one girl every two seconds. There are more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. If there is no reduction in child marriage, an additional 1.2 billion girls will be married by 2050. Child marriage is a global problem and a serious violation of a child’s rights. It denies girls the right to continue their education, make choices about their body and health, and essentially destroys their chance to pull themselves and their communities out of poverty.

By now you’re probably wondering, “If child marriage is so bad, why is it continuing to happen around the world?” One of the main root causes for child marriage is gender inequality as families don’t value their girls as much as their boys. Instead, they see them as a burden and child marriage is a way of handing their daughter off to the groom’s family. Child marriage is a cultural norm and traditional practice and it continues to take place due to the fact that is been happening for generations and generations. In impoverished communities, sometimes child marriage is the only option as families think that marriage will help secure their daughter’s future. Also, when girls are in a relationship and they get pregnant they are often forced by their families to get married.

Early and forced marriage can lead to a variety of physical, sexual, and mental problems. First of all, child brides typically give birth earlier than they are physically and emotionally ready, and girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy. The children of child brides have a very high mortality rate and if they do survive they are more likely to be born premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk of getting HIV/AIDS. Not to mention that premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for the mother as well. Young married girls are also at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS because they are more physically susceptible to STDs and they often don’t have the power to demand the use of contraception. Due to marrying young, child brides are often taken out of school so their probability of being illiterate and not being able to get a job are a lot higher. Without an education, girls are essentially unable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty because there are no employment opportunities, so the poverty cycle continues. Child brides are more likely to experience domestic abuse and violence and develop mental health issues than their unmarried peers.

As a 14-year-old girl living in Canada, I am currently attending high school and plan on attending university to pursue a career in law. I never have to fear for my safety, clean water and health care is a given, and I don’t plan on getting married until my late twenties. However, if it wasn’t for the happenstance of birth I could have easily been born in India. At 14 years old I could have already been married with children. My great grandmother was born in a city in the North of India, and was married at the age of 16. Although this seems incredibly young to me, at that time it was normal for girls to get married between the ages of 15 to 18. She was overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing a home and supporting a family at that age. While her marriage was a long and happy one, there are many girls who are not so fortunate.

Yes, child marriage is a daunting issue and yes, it does seem too complex for one person to solve, but there are steps that we can take here in Canada to end child marriage. The biggest thing we can do here in Canada is to empower girls by supporting girls’ education. When a girl is educated she is equipped with the skills and knowledge to get a job, support her family, and make the right decisions. For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 10 to 20%. With a form of generating income, she is able to help lift herself, her family, and her community out of poverty. The more education a girl gets the less likely she is to get married at an early age and have early pregnancies. A girl in the developing world receiving 7 years of education marries 4 years later on average and has fewer, yet healthier children. Through supporting Plan International’s Because I am a Girl initiative you are helping to give girls a chance to marry later and make a better life for themselves. Sponsoring a girl, hosting a Pink LemonAid stand, and donating to the Because I am a Girl initiative are all ways of helping girls stay in school longer to prevent child marriage. Another thing we can do is to demand that governments enforce laws saying that the legal age of marriage stays at 18 years. Child marriage is a very difficult issue to tackle but if we work together I am confident that we can make child marriage a thing of the past.

Let’s do it for all the girls like Lakshmi out there!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂

#WhatIReallyReallyWant

What do you REALLY REALLY want?

Do you want an end to violence against girls, quality education for all girls, an end to child marriage, or equal pay for equal work?

It has proven time and time again that empowering and supporting girls and women is key to tackling global issues. The Sustainable Development goals are a list of 169 targets to achieve globally by 2030. These goals aim to preserve our environment, eradicate climate change, and reduce inequalities. World leaders promised to put girls and women first when they agreed to support the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. In order to ensure that they keep their promise, it is vital for us to raise our voices so loud that they have to listen.

Yesterday, the Global Goals came out with a new parody of the Spice Girls’ hit song “Wannabe”, highlighting a few of the issues that girls and women face around the world. From the United Kingdom to South Africa and India, the video shows the diversity and potential of girls globally.

I believe that this video has a powerful message that has the potential to reach millions. In the media it is often portrayed that all girls “really really want” is beauty, boys, and money. However, as this campaign clearly proves we strive for so much more than that. We have big dreams that we are putting into action and we are seeing change happen as a result. Our dreams include ending gender based violence, solving climate change, and equal pay for equal work, just to name a few. We are intelligent, we are powerful, and we will stop at nothing to see our dreams in action.

Share a picture on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook of yourself holding up what YOU really, really want for girls and women with the hashtag #WhatIReallyReallyWant!

If we raise our voices our messages will be shared with world leaders at the UN in September.

global goals

really

“Girl power has come a long way, let’s take it further!”

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂

Words Matter. Raise your voice. Tell a girl she can!

 

This upcoming Tuesday, March 8th, is International Women’s Day! It is a day to celebrate what we have achieved so far in terms of women’s equality, and to recognize what still needs to be accomplished.

In celebration of the day, the initiative Because I am a Girl created a video profiling the stories of different women in Canada. The video recognized all the degrading things that women are told that bring them down. Some examples include “You must have enticed him in some way,” and “You’re not ugly enough to be as smart as you are.” These phrases are pushing women down and telling them they are not capable of achieving greatness. But in my opinion, your gender does not determine your worth, strength, or capabilities. You are powerful no matter what.

As a member of the Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau, I had the honour of participating in this video. My line in the video was “Great, just another angry feminist.” This is something that I have been told, and it is not right. Being a feminist is something to be proud of, not something to be shamed for.

You can check out the video below:

So, what can YOU do?

#1: Share – Post the link to this video on social media to share with all of your family and friends.

#2: Tweet with #LiftHerUp – On Twitter or Facebook share a message of strength and positivity for all girls everywhere. For every tweet, Scotiabank will donate $1 to a maximum of $30 000 to Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative.

#2: Celebrate International Women’s Day! – On March 8th, spread the word, and take action to make sure all women feel lifted up. Also, if you happen to be near the Eaton Centre stop by to see a 3D hologram of a girl that will be lifted up by all of the #LiftHerUp messages!

“It’s time to send women and girls the RIGHT message!”

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

February 25th is Girl Day!

Why is it that 87% of engineers in the world are male and only 13% are female?

In our society there seems to be this preconceived notion that only men are capable of being engineers. We seem to think that the men should be the ones discovering and creating new things while the women should be “in the kitchen.” However, I believe this to be very, very WRONG. In fact, I believe every single girl in this world has a spark for engineering hidden within them. They just need to find it!

That’s why at the end of this month on February 25th it is Girl Day! It is a day for the world to come together and recognize the power and potential for girls to discover and create great things. It is a movement that shows that girls are just as capable as their male counterparts to be engineers.

So, what can YOU do?

#1: Spread the word – Tell your friends and family by word of mouth or via social media that February 25th is Girl Day!

#2: DO Something – Start raising awareness about girls in engineering positions and why you think there needs to be more girls in these positions! You can try speaking at a school assembly to get the word out to all your classmates.

#3: Share your plans- On February 25th post a picture on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to share what you are doing to celebrate Girl Day! Make sure you use the hashtag #GirlDay2016 and #BringItOut

To learn more about Girl Day and what you can do go to: http://www.discovere.org/our-programs/girl-day

Remember, “There is a little bit of engineer in every girl. Bring it out.”

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

 

All-Male Satellite Colleges in Saudi Arabia

algonquin college saudi arabia
          Recently, in the news, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the Ontario colleges that are now operating in Saudi Arabia. In particular, Algonquin College and Niagara college have opened up colleges which are operating under Sharia law, which bans the teaching of men and women in the same classes.
          Many people have been very angry and confused about how this could happen, especially when these colleges are funded by Canada, of all places. Canada has a reputation of being extremely inclusive of all genders, so the fact that this is happening seems unacceptable.
          I believe that there has been to much focus on the cultural preference of gender segregation. The real issue is whether or not men and women have equal access to education. As Amnesty International Canada’s secretary-general, Alex Neve said, “What is key is that women are not being denied access to education and are not being denied access to education that is equal to what is available to men; that becomes the key consideration.”
          I think that the Ontario Government should pass legislation requiring that a satellite college can only open if either of these requirements are met: (1) the college will offer programs to both women and men, or (2) the college will offer programs for men exclusively, but the same programs are accessible to women within the same geographical area.
I think that Canada really needs to make more of an effort to ensure that wherever Canadian colleges are operating, gender discrimination is not an issue.
Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!
-Diviya

Video of the Week – #GirlLove

Recently, Lilly Singh, aka Superwoman, uploaded a video called “Girl Love” where she talked about girl on girl hate, and how that needs to change. Lilly is a Canadian Youtuber, comedian, and role model for girls around the world. Her videos inspire and make people across the world smile when they haven’t had the best day. A few days ago she was named one of Forbes top 30 under 30. All the proceeds from this video will be going to the Malala Fund, so make sure you like, share, and subscribe to IISuperwomanII!

My Interview with Sally Armstrong!

Sally Armstrong is a Canadian journalist, speaker, and human rights activist. Throughout her many years of covering stories on girls and women in war zones Sally has heard many moving stories from women who have endured many sickening and sad things. Not only is she a journalist, she is also the author of the books: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan; The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor; Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women; and her most recent title, Ascent of Women: Our turn, Our Way: A Remarkable Story of World-Wide Change. 

Last month I went to hear Sally speak at a family friend’s church. Hearing her speak was very moving and I really learned a lot about not only her experiences, but the lives of the girls in war zones she has spoken too. A few days ago I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with Sally about her experiences and her thoughts on the rise of women across the world.

  1. How do you find the courage to go into zones of conflict like Afghanistan and risk your life?

Well, it’s my job – I’m a journalist. I cover conflict from the point of view of what happens to women and girls. So, I’m well prepared for where I go and you’re right – it is sometimes dangerous, these places. But I’m well prepared and I know what to do and I love my job. I love being able to report to people on what is happening to women and girls in these places, so I guess that’s how I manage; I like what I do.

  1.     What advice would you give to young girls like me who want to make a difference and help improve the lives of girls around the world?

My first piece of advice is: don’t ever think for one minute that you can’t do it, because you can. Although loads of people will say you’re too young or you have no experience, they’re the ones who are wrong. You’re not the wrong one. You know what to do and you even know how to do it. The best tool you have, from my advice, is your own voice. As soon as you speak up and say “This is not okay with me”, then, I believe you will start to make change.

  1.     How do you believe we can get the conversation going on more taboo topics like rape?

Well, I think the conversation has started. For a very, very long time and I dare say throughout history, there has been a taboo about talking about rape or any kind of sexual assault. Women were told to keep their mouths shut, whether it was in an undeveloped country in Africa or whether it was Canada, women were told to be quiet and not to say anything. And here even, they would be told, “You know you could wreck your future. You don’t want people knowing these things.” That has stopped. People are now talking and we know, if you can’t talk about it, you can’t change it. Now that doesn’t mean a girl who’s been raped should go public if she doesn’t want to, and most likely she won’t. But that does mean that she can contribute maybe not her own story, but she can contribute to the conversation. The trouble with talking about being raped when you’ve been raped is that it feels a little bit like getting re-raped, and you don’t want anyone to have to go through that. But nobody used to talk about it; they used to use expressions like “Women who were beaten by their husbands really liked it”, or “Women who got raped asked for it.” Nobody talks that way anymore, and if they do it is so heavily censored by the public, by even their own friends, that I think we are seeing the last of that. Now some people like Donald Trump may still talk that way, but we don’t have any respect for them.

  1.    Who is someone who inspires you every day to make a difference?

Do I have to choose only one? Well you inspire me. It inspires me so much that you and your family would travel such a long way just so we could meet. I find that incredibly inspiring after doing this job for thirty years. To know someone else wants to do it too. Sima Samara of Afghanistan inspires me. So many hardworking change makers. Alaina Podmorow in Western Canada inspires me. So a lot of people I think are doing truly outstanding work because they care about what they are doing. That is why they inspire me.

  1.   What challenges did you face when transforming the Homemakers magazine into a magazine that discusses more serious social issues?

Well actually Homemakers magazine was doing that. Homemakers magazine, when I took it over, was known as the thinking women’s magazine. It already started talking about issues for women in Canada such as wife assault and child sexual abuse, those kinds of things were already being discussed on the pages of Homemakers. They were also talking about abortion, and there were a group of women in Canada who tried to close the magazine for that reason, but they didn’t succeed. But by the time I came along I wanted to move the magazine into an International field. The All News Network, like CNN, like CBC, they were now in our living room. We were now seeing things we didn’t see before about the international world. And what women were seeing was incredible mistreatment of women around the world but particularly in war zones, and I wanted to bring that onto the pages of my magazine so that my readers would have something to say about it, and that is what I did at Homemakers.

  1.    What do you think is different about this generation from previous ones in terms of improving things for women?

Well, I could have said the same thing when I was your age about the generation before me. Things change, things progress, and we begin to better understand issues. I could act on issues better than my mother did, and you can act on them better than I did, because the more knowledge you have the better equipped you are to make change. And there is more knowledge available to you today then there was when I was your age. It’s all about equipping yourself with knowledge, and it’s not just rattling off facts, it’s being open-minded so that you can hear what other people are saying, and not just adding another anecdote. You can actually hear whatthose Syrian women are saying, what is a good end result for them, what are they thinking about when they pack and go on this perilous journey. You are open to these things because it is available to you, and that’s different. If my generation went two thirds of the way to the finish line than your generation can definitely get us there.

  1.    What’s your most memorable experience during your many travels across the world?

I’ve had so many experiences that I will never forget. You know the stories of these women, they play on the back of my eyelids and I wonder how they are doing and sometimes I can get a message to them and sometimes they can get a message to me. I think the biggest shock I ever had is when I went to Afghanistan for the first time just after the Taliban took over, and seeing what they had done to the women. That all the women were in burqas and how hard it was to walk in a burqa. If you fell and your legs showed you would get beaten by the Taliban. The girls couldn’t go to school and the women couldn’t go to work and it was almost like they put all the girls and women in prison. On the other hand, I broke the story about the gang rape of the women in the Balkans. The first night that I met the women that I did the story about, that really affected me so powerfully. Even as I tell it to you I can feel the agony of listening to her story.

My other experiences include the feeling I had of helping women to empower themselves so these things can stop. But there are so many, it’s hard to say just one. I feel so privileged; I go to schools and young people tell me their stories, and I teach them to play sports. Not just the boys, the girls too. I feel terribly lucky that people share their stories with me and that they trust me to share what is happening to them with the world.

My Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed listening to Sally’s words as she spoke about the girls she has met in war zones and speaking to her one-on-one. She truly is a remarkable woman and I am honoured to have had the chance to talk to her.

Thank you so much Sally for taking the time to answer my questions!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

Syrian Refugees Arrive in Canada

In the evening of Thursday, December 10th, 163 Syrian refugees were welcomed into Canada with open arms. Our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne were both at the Toronto Pearson airport to greet the refugees and give them welcome packages.

After hearing about all the horrors that the citizens of Syria have had to endure, it made me so happy to see pictures of kids smiling and laughing. The children and families have been given an opportunity to get a job, make money and live a life filled with freedom that their parents couldn’t have imagined. As Justin said, “They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians.”

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Today, I felt very proud to be a Canadian after reading all of the heartwarming messages people have been sending.  THIS is what Canada is all about – hospitality, kindness, and equality.

Dear refugees, I personally welcome you all into the country I have called home for my entire life. I hope you will soon be able to call it home too.

Welcome to Canada, my country is now yours.

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

My Interview with Alex Deans!

Alex Deans is an 18-year-old inventor, artist, and speaker. When he was 12-years-old he invented a device that helps the blind get around without assistance. Since then, he has been named “future leader” by Maclean’s and has spoken at We Days across Canada. A few days ago I had the chance to hop on the phone with him and ask him a few questions about his experiences.

  1. So I know your invention of the iAID is a device that helps the blind get around without assistance. Can you tell me a little bit more about how it works?

So the iAid is based off how a bat navigates using sound. There are two different systems for the iAid, one is for indoors and one is for outdoors. Indoors the device uses four sensors on your belt, and it essentially scans your room using sound and it maps out where all your obstacles are and where your destination is. The iAid then actually plans a route to your destination automatically, and all that information is relayed back to you through a little joystick that I built. You hold this joystick in your hand and it will actually rotate by itself to show you where to go.

  1. I know that you started researching and making the iAid at only 12. Did you ever face any obstacles with people not taking your seriously because of your age? If so, how did you overcome them?

Yes, there were two main obstacles that I faced when developing the iAid. One was learning to code at such a young age and teaching myself from scratch, and that took me three years. Once I reached out onto the forums and online, there were a lot of people who said I couldn’t do it, especially since I was 12. Not a lot of people are willing to back a 12-year old with such a big idea. So it took me about a year and a half to find those people who support me and mentor me and I worked with them over the next couple of years too.

  1. For the past two years you have spoken at We Day. What did it feel like to speak in front of 20 000 passionate teens like you?

It feels amazing! I first had the excitement last year at We Day 2014 and that is definitely one of the main reasons why I came back in 2015, and because it is so fulfilling for me to speak with people I can relate with, people who are actually making real change. Really what I am trying to do is have a conversation with you guys, with people in the audience, to have an open dialogue. Not to just have that stop at the end of We Day, to have that continue throughout the year so we can work together to make big changes, and that is what I love the most about We Day.

  1. If you could change one thing in the world what would it be and why?

One thing I really want to change is how Aboriginal people are treated in Canada. That’s actually something I am really passionate about, and it is something I am started to get involved with more and more. I am working on creating an equal playing field level for Aboriginal youth and Aboriginal education. I want to see them have access to the same things that we do.

5. Who is someone whose leadership inspires you?           

My role model as leader would probably be Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer in the states who advocates fully for people who are marginalized and who nobody else is backing, and he backs them. He gives them supports and advocates for them, and I find that to be really powerful.

  1. My goal is to one day be speaking on the We Day stage. Do you have any advice on how to get there?

Yes, We Day speakers are people who have a lot of experience, but they are also the same people who are in the audience. To get onto the We Day stage, all you have to do is follow your ideas, pursue those dreams and make them happen, have some tangible experience with your idea and then you will be able to  share that experience with people regardless of whether that is on the We Day stage or not. I think the main thing is just to pursue your idea and make it happen, and them some crazy, wonderful things can come from that. For me, it was speaking on the We Day stage but for a lot of other people it is just maybe speaking to do different organizations or maybe becoming involved with a certain group. There are a lot of different avenues that your experiences can lead to.

  1. Do you have a motto that you live by?

I don’t have a specific motto but mine would just be “If you have a dream, chase it,” because no matter what it is in life I like to make sure I devote 100%of my attention to that dream or idea I have and make it happen.

  1. When you are not inventing things or speaking in front of thousands of people, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

There are a lot of things I like to do. I am really passionate about visual arts, so I love to paint especially portraiture. I also really music so I play piano and guitar and I sing, so I do that as a kind of release. I really enjoy playing sports, especially skiing. I live for skiing, I started when I was two years old and it has become something that I really love to do.

Thank you Alex for letting me interview you!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

Diviya