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Cover Story

COVERSTORY - Sukhmeet Sachal: Young Humanitarian

By Petrina D’Souza, 30 Jan, 2019

    Besides being an academic scholar, Sukhmeet is a humanitarian, public health advocate, and environmental advocate who believes in the recipe of intercultural dialogue in order to promote peace in the world. 



    Sukhmeet Sachal is merely 24 years old and already has tons of accomplishments to his credit. Besides being an academic scholar, Sukhmeet is a humanitarian, public health advocate, and environmental advocate who believes in the recipe of intercultural dialogue in order to promote peace in the world. 

    A recent graduate of the Master of Public Health program at Western University in London, Ontario; Sukhmeet has been involved with community and charity work since childhood. “As a Sikh, I have been raised and instilled with the concept of selfless service which is known as Seva. At the age of five, my father got me involved with volunteering in Amritsar. Since then, I have never looked back,” shares the young adult who has volunteered in places such as Ghana, Uganda and the Arctic. “Community service has allowed me to view life with a bigger purpose, which is to help and learn from each other. By meeting new people from different backgrounds, I become more aware of my surroundings. At the end of the day, service is all about learning from others and giving back to the community,” points out Sukhmeet, currently a case manager with the UBC School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine. As a case manager, Sukhmeet works with the Cedar Project to provide Indigenous people who have Hepatitis C virus with medication and support through a holistic intervention. “With my goal set on a becoming a physician, this position has allowed me to interact with patients and help them in meeting their needs,” adds the young health advocate. He is also working with the United Nations Association of Canada as the Regional Coordinator in Vancouver for the Youth Navigate the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action programme.

    Sukhmeet has been involved with environmental initiatives since high school. “I have always been inspired to help make our world more sustainable and greener.” However, he started making the connection between environmental awareness and public health after his six-month trip to Arctic in 2017. “Here, I saw the first-hand impacts of climate change on the levels of ice depletion and sea rise. Upon meeting with Indigenous elders, I learned how climate change will impact the livelihood of the Inuit population living up North,” he reveals. Witnessing these changes, he started exploring the impact this would have on the mental health of Inuit community members. “Specifically, climate change can result in solastalgia, the feeling of being away from home even when you are at home. With mental health already being a major concern in the North, this would exacerbate the situation. This experience defined for me the importance of linking environmental health with public health,” explains Sukhmeet, who then started the Break The Divide (BTD) Foundation with his younger brother Abhayjeet.

    The goal of BTD is to connect youth in the North to youth across Canada and explore topics such as climate change and mental health. By personifying the effects of environmental degradation in the Arctic, Indigenous youth can teach other youth about these risks so they can work together to brainstorm solutions. “British Columbian students were shocked to hear how melting sea ice had been changing Inuit lifestyles, resulting in increased food insecurity,” mentions Sukhmeet. Since its implementation, there have been connections between students in Inuvik and students in Canada, South Africa, and India. The project has reached over 1000 youth from around the world and is currently being funded through community grants and donations.

    A major highlight for Sukhmeet last year was being chosen as one of 1,000 youth from across the world to attend the UNLEASH United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Conference in Singapore. For two weeks, the passionate global volunteer worked alongside leaders from all nations to share ideas on improving this planet. “I was put into a team of four individuals from Singapore, Zambia, and Syria. Together, we designed an innovative solution to mitigate climate change in Zambia. For our efforts, we won a Gold Prize by the delegation.”

    Sukhmeet’s extraordinary work in various fields had honoured him with many local, national, and international awards and scholarships from reputed organizations such as Canadian Red Cross and Indo-Canadian Business Association. The most recent one was from the Government of Canada for the Canadian Volunteer Awards where Sukhmeet was recognized as an Emerging Leader for British Columbia and the North. “This honour was a culmination of pride not only for myself, but for the entire South Asian community since it was the first time that a Sikh had won as an Emerging Leader,” the multiple award-winner proudly states.

    In 2019, Sukhmeet wants to continue to improve himself socially, academically, and spiritually. Socially, he wants to expand BTD around the world so that youth can be at the forefront of social change, and also wants to mentor youth to be the best versions of themselves. Academically, he aims to continue working with the UBC School of Population and Public Health to help improve the lives of Indigenous people with Hepatitis C. “I also want to start medical school so that I can start my journey into the field of medicine,” he quickly adds. Spiritually, he wants to be the happiest version of himself. “I want to continue spreading love and compassion to everyone around me, as well as to myself.”

    What inspires you to do better each day?

    When I was growing up, my inspiration to do better each day stemmed from my parents who immigrated to Canada and started a new life. Seeing their daily struggles made me motivated to make it all worth it for them. As I grew older, I started to realize that my inspiration to be better each day actually stems from within. By making myself better each day, I have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. I believe that my life’s purpose is to serve others and in order to continue fulfilling this duty, I need to continue being inspired by myself and those that I surround myself with. 

    What’s you advise for those who wish to follow your path?

    My best advice to anyone who wishes to follow my path is to create their own  path. Everyone has a unique journey ahead of them and following another path would be boring. Pave your own way and face the hardships. These hurdles will strengthen you mentally and make you even more determined to follow your dreams. While on the path, I would encourage you to find great mentors and role models that can help guide you. However, at the end of the day, listen to your heart and be yourself. 


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