Every Christmas, when the Salvation Army is ringing bells for donations, Giri Puligandia’s mom reminds him that his father would find every kettle in the city and put in a $5-bill. That commitment to helping people is predominant in the life of this 29-year old.
He is honouring the memory of the role model he never met. When Giri was just two weeks old, his father passed away. A backpacking trip after he earned his Bachelor of Science in pharmacology at the University of Alberta left Giri broke. On his return to Edmonton, he heard the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta was looking for someone to head its public education program. Wearing shorts, sandals and a dirty t-shirt, Giri went in hoping his rèsumé would be considered even though the deadline had passed—he was hired on the spot.
Shortly after he started, Giri met a group of young people at a conference and was surprised to learn they were suffering with schizophrenia. He hit it off with one young man and recalls, “The only difference between us was that he had schizophrenia and I didn’t.”
Giri made it his mission to overcome the stigma that surrounds mental illness. He took to heart his responsibilities to increase awareness of the realities of living with the disease by offering programs that prevent or reduce social isolation and promote recovery. He secured funding for a project that helps people with mental illness stay healthy enough to maintain independence and housing. He made Walk and Run the most successful Schizophrenia Society fundraiser of its kind in Canada. He forged partnerships with Capital Health and diverse organizations.
After six years with the Schizophrenia Society, Giri is leaving his position as executive director to join Alberta Caregivers Association. His new focus will be on people who devote their lives to helping loved ones through illness. He’s also starting graduate studies in public health this fall.
Giri is heavily involved in grassroots not-for-profit organizations. He serves on a number of boards including the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, Organized Medicine Foundation, Sombrilla Refugee Support Society, Andhra Cultural Association and S.O.S. Players Guild of Alberta. As someone whose sense of community is inborn, Giri is saddened by the lack of young volunteers.
“You can only stand by for so long before the question comes up: Why don’t we do something?”