Karan Durairajan may be new to SFU and Vancouver, but it didn’t take him long to lay down roots in the community. “I’ve applied to be a peer health educator at SFU, and I volunteered at Vancouver General Hospital and with UNICEF SFU” he says. “I like to take part in voluntary work wherever I go.” That is no understatement for this Masters of Kinesiology student, who was recently a finalist for the Work Integrated Learning photo contest, and has volunteered in countries all over the world.
His photo “Team Work Works” is a just one representation of a diverse program he was involved with through his position as manager of the Fitness One Foundation, the non-profit outreach arm of the larger Fitness One company based out of India. With the help of the Society for Economic and Educational Development (S.E.E.D), Durairajan and Fitness One came up with a plan to tackle some of the health needs of a local village.
Volunteers from around the world including physical education teachers, physiotherapists, even an acrobat from Italy, came together to implement a six-week pilot program to introduce students at Mahatma Gandhi High School to the tenets of active living and to give them basic information on nutrition and healthy eating. The high school only has four teachers, and houses children whose parents are serving life sentences in prison. Durairajan relates that before they started the program, many of the teachers and students had no concept of how physical activity could be structured in schools and the surrounding community, a village by the name of Utkottai, did not have the infrastructure in place to support that kind of education. The pilot program showed the students what a sports day might look like and encouraged them to take responsibility for their heath and wellbeing, in hopes that they would then pass their lessons on to their grandparents or extended families. For the next phase, Fitness One Foundation hopes to build a gym that the students and the community can utilize, and three students from the high school were chosen to participate in a training program in Chennai to become instructors in this new facility.
The pilot project culminated with a sports day on August 15, India’s day of Independence. A member of the local government attended to show support, and company executives from the nearby Hyundai manufacturing centre were invited in the hopes that they would become involved and recognize their responsibility to look after the community that houses them. This type of community development was not new to Durairajan, who has studied in Austrailia and Mexico with people he says “opened his eyes to community development” and motivated him to continue working in the community instead of in a hospital. “It’s noble work” he says of working in a hospital, “but it did not bring me the kind of satisfaction and fulfillment I am looking for.” After spending a year volunteering in Malaysia, he moved back to his home city of Chennai to work for Fitness One Foundation.
Now Durairajan has moved onto his next challenge—school at SFU—citing the opportunity to volunteer at the upcoming Paralymic games in 2010 as a major draw. “In India, they do not have the infrastructure and the opportunity for children with mental and physical disabilities to take part in physical activities” he says. “I want to learn from the Paralymics and the Special Olympics and take those skills back to my community”—a sentiment true to his character. Durairajan’s experience in Uttokai is a great example of what a community foundation built on people can do. As his photo reflects, with teamwork, persistence and support, the sky is the limit!