Body Buddies

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Aayushi Khillan is working the room in confidence with her Body Buddies – the soft toys for a good cause.

It’s not every day I let myself into an interview where everything I know about the person is unique and awesome. The outspoken woman, a budding young philanthropist at the age of twenty, has definitely taken over the world. As I Zoom with her, there’s already talk of the Melbourne snap lockdown in the air; coincidentally, her story rose from last year’s COVID lockdown. I couldn’t be prouder to introduce you to the unassuming Aayushi Khillan.

Born in Saudi Arabia to a paediatrician father and gynaecologist mother, naturally science was not alien to Khillan. Moving to Melbourne with her family when she was three, she inherited the best of both worlds: her mother’s Lucknowi manners and her father’s Punjabi strength. Her parents not only brought her up with Indian values but also fed her to be curious, innovative and multicultural.

Creating soft toys in the shape of various human organs is a fun way to teach kids about their body. It’s for a good cause, with fifty percent of proceeds going to Transplant Australia.

Her journey started at the age of eighteen when dreams and destiny collide. In 2019 Khillan became the youngest Australian to be appointed as a board member for VCAA (the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority).

She definitely turned heads in media but then COVID hit, shutting everything, including schools. This sparked Khillan’s need to do something for the disruption in students’ lives and she rose to represent these students. Collaborating with various schools, students and organisations such as VICSRC, she helped ensure that the 2020 curriculum acknowledged the disruption to students’ education. I think the class of 2020 has a lot to thank Khillan for her efforts to advocate reduced content for all year 12 students.

She tells me (having been in the same boat in the not-too-distant past) that it is a hard gig for students, especially when they cannot interact properly in a contactless world. Khillan, being the only Asian representative in many of these organisations, raised these concerns about the isolated world of student life.

The admiration and the determination of this twenty-year-old left everyone’s head turning, including the VCAA chairperson, in admiration of her game changing effort.

It’s no surprise when she tells me her ‘father’ is her role model. It was Khillan’s father who instigated her to nominate herself for the 2020 City of Melbourne Youth Champion Award from the Melbourne Council for her extraordinary work for the community during COVID-19. Undergoing the interview and then finally winning the coveted title, Khillan was honoured not only with the award, but she was also honoured as a COVID hero. Her image was projected onto the State Library during their Christmas festival. It is a dream come true for most twenty-year-olds, but to be listed as one of the ’40 under 40’ most influential Australian Asians and also awarded the Excellence Award by the state governor is commendable.

Apart from being busy with her company on this project, Aayushi Khillan is also keeping herself busy being on the Future Amp Youth Advisory Board, and as an ambassador for GirledWorld, a female empowerment not-for-profit program.

Academically, Khillan is no less than a genius. She received an impressive ATAR 99.90 in her year level. She not only received the highly coveted Melbourne University Chancellor’s Scholarship – which provides her a guaranteed medical entry and $5000 annually for going to university to complete a Bachelor of Biomedicine – but she also received a Metcalf Scholarship from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Therefore, she will be completing a full year of undergraduate research in the foremost blood cells and cancer division in the institute.

From left: Aayushi, sister Aarshiya and parents Dr Raj & Dr Preeti

At present, Khillan’s recent project, ‘Body Buddies’, is in collaboration with Transplant Australia, creating soft toys in the shape of various human organs. It is to create awareness among kids and help them learn about the human body in a fun way.

The idea has been brewing in Khillan since she visited Nepal in 2019. She visited one of the most remote communities in Nepal as part of a programme by Bodyworks: a health awareness program for Victorian primary school students to introduce health hygiene and healthy eating habits. Health awareness was at the forefront of this curriculum. Bodyworks made it easy for the twenty-year-old to bring ‘Body Buddies’ to life. When you know your ‘why’, your ‘how’ will find a way – that’s what happened to this noble cause.

I am looking forward to the Body Buddies launch in March. The soft toys and key chains are on track, and will soon be ready for stockists.

Khillan excitedly tells me that she will be making sure every kid has a Body Buddy by making it readily available in pharmacies. The young philanthropist tells me that something similar to her Body Buddies is happening in the US, where it’s more from a business angle then a philanthropy idea. She is here to make it her own.

When the academic Khillan is not her academic self, she is as traditional as any other twenty-year-old can get – that includes enjoying time with her friends and serving up a good laugh. Khillan enjoys photography and loves capturing nature. She’s also a true-blue Bollywood fan, her favourite movie being Andhadhun. Sharing her birthday with Mahatma Gandhi, he inspires her and she wants ‘to be the change she wishes to see in the world’. Her second favourite inspiration is Kamala Harris.

I look at her and there is this sudden tingling feeling, as if I am talking to a future politician who not only knows her craft, but also knows how to use her confidence. Her message for our audience is just like her confidence: “You can do anything in the world. Gain confidence and be empowered.” As for me to quote this young philanthropist ebbing in her own flow, I can think of none other than Kamala Harris herself: “What I want young women and girls to know is: you are powerful and your voice matters.”

By Nandita Chakraborty