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Navnit Virdi, 2008 Young Woman of Achievement

Navnit Virdi, 2008 Young Woman of Achievement

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” That quote from Mahatma Gandhi are words that 2008 Young Woman of Achievement Navnit Virdi lives by.

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Navnit spent her childhood years surrounded by the comfort of her East Indian culture.  “Everything had a touch of India,” she explains.

But, when Navnit was ten, her family moved to Vancouver, Washington.  The culture shock was, in her words, “devastating” and her experiences and lessons would have a lifelong impact. 

Navnit says she and her family came to know racism and discrimination first-hand. Their home was pelted with eggs, their car was covered with graffiti and the family was the frequent target of name-calling.

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“Being called a ‘whore’ for defending yourself is something nobody should ever experience and especially at such a young age,” says Navnit.  Fueled by anger, Navnit admits that she began discriminating against others.  Finally, she realized that she could transform hatred by educating others.   She became involved in the community, school clubs, organizations and sports.  Soon Navnit realized her passion — service.

In 2004, Navnit joined Heritage High School’s Multicultural Club to promote awareness of other cultures – including her own Indian culture -- within the school and the community. The club has organized events such as Fiesta Night, Asian and Pacific Islander Night, Native American plays and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. assembly.

The club also hosts an annual Women in History assembly, featuring a panel of women of various ethnicities who have gained independence after overcoming obstacles. This assembly is especially meaningful to Navnit, who fosters awareness of the inequality of treatment and opportunities experienced by women in countries around the world.  Today, she serves as president of Heritage’s Multicultural Club.

It was her peace studies class that exposed Navnit to many of the realities of the world — poverty, rape HIV/AIDS victims, sickness, starvation.  She remembers that her Peace Studies instructor David Morris once said, “You cannot create peace until you create peace within yourself.”  These words made sense to Navnit as she came to terms with herself as a woman, an Indian, a daughter, a sister and a volunteer.

In 2006, she joined Heritage High School’s Peace and Evolution club, helping to raise $3,000 for their Schools for Darfur project. The club now holds an annual event to support education in countries throughout the world.

Since 2006, Navnit has served as a board member for the Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC). YVC’s mission is to create and increase volunteer opportunities to enrich America’s youth, address community needs and develop a lifetime commitment to service. Twice each month, the board discusses a topic of community concern or social issue and plans a service day to address that need. Their volunteer activities include organizing a dog wash to support the Southwest Washington Humane Society and participating in compliance checks for the Clark County Health Department.

Navnit plans to attend a four-year university to pursue “not a career, but a lifestyle of helping others within medicine, women and ethnic studies or human rights law.”  As she pursues her goals, Navnit Virdi strives to exemplify these memorable words from Mahatma Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

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