Videsh Kapoor (BSc’88, BEd’92, MD’93) teaches students to approach international volunteering with respect and sensitivity.
Dr. Videsh Kapoor still remembers her first international volunteer experience, shortly after graduating from medical school. Accompanied by a friend from her class, she decided to lend a hand at a health post in remote Nepal.
The excitement was overpowering: their ethnicities – Hindu and Japanese – would surely allow them to blend seamlessly with the local population. But as they boarded the small plane that would take them to their destination, they saw that they were the only foreigners, and that their $200 hiking boots, high-tech backpacks and western appearance stood in stark contrast to the mountain-weathered locals who carried sacks, bags of rice and chicken pens as their personal luggage. One man even had a goat!
Embarrassed and feeling highly conspicuous, they finally understood how naïve they had been to think they would blend in simply because they shared the same facial features, to believe that they understood the locals simply because they looked like them!
Today, Videsh is the director of the UBC Division of Global Health in the Department of Family Practice and voluntarily contributes her time and expertise as co-founder of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a program that offers skill-building workshops for UBC medical students interested in helping abroad. The Medical Undergraduate Society recognized her with the 2011 William A. Webber Award for her contributions to undergraduate medical education and commitment to the future physicians of British Columbia.
Through the GHI, she supervises four projects: the India Spiti Health Project, which seeks to improve the health of children attending the Munsel-ling Boarding School for children Kindergarten to Grade 10; the India Voice of Children project, which is aimed at improving basic health and hygiene in the Uttarakhand province at the foothills of the Himalayans; the Kenya Pamoja project, intended to address urgent health needs in Kisumu, Nyanza province; and the Uganda Nacodi project, devoted to serving the locals through improved medical care and education. In April 2011, she pioneered a partnership between the GHI and Nicaragua Children’s Foundation, focusing on improving the healthcare of children at three schools in San Juan del Sur.
Throughout all of this, Videsh has always remembered the lesson that her first international volunteer experience taught her: respect for cultural diversity. She hopes to impress that learning upon future volunteers through the GHI program. She believes volunteering abroad is a collaborative partnership with host communities that requires humility and sensitivity.