The Hubballi Diaries: Student Ambassador Victoria Fowler discovers a new path

March 29, 2018 | by: Heather Boyd-Kinnie

Written by Tiziana Zevallos

Victoria Fowler’s entrepreneurial journey began after seeing a poster from the PDC Student Ambassador Program last fall that said ‘do you want to be a changemaker?’

Until that point, Victoria, second year education and arts student at UNB Saint John, was aiming towards being a teacher as she thought education was the only path available to her to help people, especially young students like herself.

“When I got in the program, I started realizing there’s more things that I can do to help people. I kind of want to switch to business to be able to accommodate for trying to create social businesses, enterprises that follow the B-corp model and triple-bottom line,” she said.

Victoria’s goal to help people comes from her own experience with pain.

When Victoria was 11 years old, she woke up in the middle of the night from excruciating pain. She had always been tall for her age, so any pain she had suffered in her joints in previous years had been attributed to growing pains. But this time, as her parents rushed her to the hospital, they realized it probably was something else.

Victoria was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

“Arthritis is really hard for people to see. It’s like an invisible disability. It also causes stress, which can actually make arthritis worse.” Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and affects 4.3 million Canadians aged 12 or older, as reported by Statistics Canada in 2008.

While in high school, Victoria had to miss a lot of school due to pain, and a lot of people didn’t quite understand what she was going through. The pain restrained her from leading a normal social life, so she struggled with depression for a bit.

“Arthritis can cause way more than just pain. People just don’t realize it, unless someone really pays attention. And you don’t really show it too much on the outside,” she said. “Like when using my left arm instead of my right arm because my right arm is sore. It’s almost like you can’t almost physically see it and know it, so it’s really hard for people to understand what’s actually happening and how it could be affecting your life.”

As part of the PDC Student Ambassador Program, Victoria travelled alongside 30 other students and entrepreneurs from New Brunswick to Boston on a tour of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

On an activity on the way to Boston, she mentioned to a fellow bus rider that she wanted to create change by raising awareness about juvenile arthritis. She was thinking of designing and selling clothes that would raise awareness as well as funds for the cause, as she has always been interested in fashion design. To this, the entrepreneur sitting next to her replied “that’s not gonna work. You gotta do something functional.”

The tour later stopped to visit the Institute for Human Centered Design, which focuses in enhancing the experience of people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design.

As the Institute’s Executive Director, Valerie Fletcher, made a presentation on how universal design oftentimes leaves out people with different experiences, such as people with disabilities and seniors, Victoria had an idea.

“I thought my feet are hurting now because of my arthritis. I should probably try to design some orthopedic shoes that are actually fashionable.”

In these pasts months, Victoria has been working on researching orthopedics to design and figure out what she wants the product to be. She has been developing drawings, making adaptations of shoes and connecting with experts in the field.

“The PDC tied it all together to me, I really actually found my place. I was on the right track wanting to help people by being a teacher, and then this came in and gave the confidence to know that business is something I can do,” she said.

For Victoria, living with pain is not easy and there are days she wish she didn’t have this disease. “But I’m very thankful that I do, because it has helped me grow stronger and especially more independent. Without it I don’t think I would be who I am today. And my life wouldn’t be as influenced by wanting to help people,” she said. “Feeling the pain and feeling how much it hurts, and knowing that there’s other things in the world that cause pain… not necessarily physical ailments, for instance poverty, that causes people pain and emotional distress. Knowing that, I want to help people because I don’t want people to be in pain, whatever type it is.”

Earlier this year, Victoria was one of the two student ambassadors selected to go on the India trip to visit the Hubballi entrepreneurship Sandbox.

Coming back from the trip, she’s excited to apply the skills she learnt from The Development Dialogue Conference, The Deshpande Foundation and the experiences throughout the trip.

“Meeting and listening to the speakers and attendees who have made real change by pairing their passion for helping others with business skills and strategies has motivated me greatly. I want to come up with new strategies and ways to adapt the skills I’ve learned in India to the challenges people face not only globally but in my own community,” she said.

“I’m thankful to have been welcomed into India and to have experienced something this life-changing. I feel like I am prepared now, more than ever, to work to discover solutions to make real change, in real ways, in real lives, and to come to terms with the truth that no one should be living this way in this day and age,” she said.

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