Oct. 27, 2021

‘What you do can, and will, matter,’ says co-founder of maternal mental health program in India

2021 Top 40 Under 40: Sherri Shergill, BA’09
Sherri Shergill
Sherri Shergill Jared Sych, Avenue magazine

Toggling between two continents, Sherri (Gursharan) Shergill, BA’09, a 36-year-old double major (English and communications) acts both locally and globally to deliver health services to women and racialized populations who have been marginalized by society. A fan of study abroad programs and international exchanges, Shergill’s work in India is transforming prenatal health care in a clinic she helped create with other family members.

Shergill is clinical supervisor at the Centre for Refugee Resilience, and co-founder of the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre in Rajasthan, India.

What do you miss about student life?

A lot! I miss the community of friends and being in a setting that challenged me to think differently and critically. I absolutely appreciate what I learned in class; however, I also learned a lot from the people I met off campus ... from different walks of life and those who shared different perspectives.

Where did you hang out on campus?

As close as I could get to the MacKimmie Library heaters.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date? What are you most proud of?

A few years ago, I spent five months in rural India supporting the implementation of a maternal mental-health program at Mata Jai Kaur (MJK) that trained local women to counsel in their own communities.  This was an incredibly fulfilling, educational and significant experience in my career.

What is satisfying and frustrating about working with MJK in India?

I have been lucky to spend some time on the ground in India working with MJK and feel incredibly satisfied knowing that our service-delivery model works — that we are genuinely supporting women by delivering high-quality reproductive and child-health services in a safe, hygienic and women-centred environment. And it is also challenging to try to understand and operate within another country and culture’s context, so I am grateful for the amazing team we have that is patient with me as I continually adapt and learn new ways of working.

If you could change one thing about your work with marginalized communities, what would it be?

So much! I think there are a lot of antiquated systems that we expect people to navigate, not understanding that these can be oppressive and prejudicial toward the individuals the system is meant to protect and benefit. I would love to move away from this and try to make the social service sector more culturally affirming by minimizing power dynamics that often emerge in Western approaches.

How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day work?

We’ve moved therapy online! Previous to COVID-19, the Centre for Refugee Resilience had never thought about delivering therapy online — but we’ve done it successfully for 18 months. It’s pushed us to be creative and flexible in our approach. It’s been great to watch the entire team form close and trusting relationships with clients online and still deliver effective and meaningful services despite the challenges of not working in person.

If you were to go back to school, what would you take?

Sociology, political science, gender studies — there are so many interesting courses to take and subjects to learn about!

What do you wish you knew more about?

Everything! The more I learn or advance in my career, the more I realize just how little I know. 

Who are your biggest heroes?

I’m a second-generation Canadian and a child of two immigrant parents. I would say anyone who has made an immigration journey is heroic.

Any advice for students or new grads? 

If you have the opportunity, go on a study abroad or an exchange. It provides experience and lessons you can’t get in a classroom. I know the world can feel daunting right now, but I do think we can shift current systemic issues in this generation. What you do can, and will, matter.

Why is mentorship important?

Mentorship is one of the main reasons I ended up in the field I am in. It offers insight and practical guidance for career and life decisions. I feel indebted to the mentors I have and hope I can offer that same support to others. A few of us started SYC Mentorship Program while at U of C (years ago now!) and it’s still running at a much better and larger capacity than we could have ever imagined. That’s the key to mentorship; to leave the door open and easier to access for the next generation to do bigger and better things than we were able to!

What is the most annoying question that people ask you?

Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?

With files from Avenue Magazine.