Khadija is a social media influencer and campaigner currently raising awareness about Vitamin D deficiency. At a young age, Khadija has already made her mark in the health industry with her campaign and she’s here to tell us all about it.
How and why did you start your Vitamin D campaign?
After I finished my A-Levels, I started doing charity work. I worked on mental health issues, I worked with Unicef and I went to Tanzania for three weeks to teach English. Being there, opened my eyes so much and I came back to England with a different mentality. I was going to apply to study medicine at university but I didn’t want to wait five years to help people. I’m a very impatient person, I’d rather help people as quickly as possible and I had so many ambitions I wanted to fulfil. University will always be there, your grades won’t fly away. So I decided to work instead and started a campaign – the Vitamin D awareness campaign.
When my little cousin was born, he had severe rickets. The doctors told us it was caused by so many things like calcium, phosphorous etc. But when you think of rickets, you automatically think vitamin D. For whatever reason this doctor wouldn’t pin point it. So I went away and did my own research and I was shocked at what I found. I was also shocked at how many people it affects, especially in the Muslim community as we cover for religious purposes therefore inhibiting vitamin D absorption from the sun. My main motivation was my little cousin and I wanted to make a difference for him but also my community.
When people find out that I’m a campaigner they never think my focus is on vitamin D and I love that because it’s great that I can use my platform to promote an issue that isn’t really discussed. I really didn’t expect the campaign to go so well, I’m known as ‘Vitamin D Girl’ now, so it’s crazy!
The biggest social media following I have is on Twitter so I created a factual campaign on there so people could learn about vitamin D deficiency in order to raise awareness. I wanted to prevent people finding out they were deficient too late so I was posting warning signs, when to contact your doctor and things like that. We found out six months after he was born that the reason my cousin was born with rickets was because his mother was severely vitamin D deficient. Had she have known whilst she was pregnant and taken supplements, it could have been prevented.
Countries with low levels of sunlight, for example Norway, Switzerland, Finland and Iceland, have the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency and the highest rates of suicide. Iceland is the country with the lowest level sunlight and it has a severely high suicidal rate. That really got to me because as I said earlier, I had worked with mental health organisations before. We already know that low sunlight or poor weather can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and that low levels of vitamin D can effect serotonin levels. So I linked the two issues and liaised with mental health organisations to look into vitamin D deficiency. They went away and did some research and came back to me with all of this information and I thought why not collaborate on this and kill two birds with one stone, raising awareness for both causes.
The campaign became government approved in its initial stages. I was able to visit schools and universities. It’s crazy to think I wanted to study medicine and here I was giving presentations in medical schools. Right now I’m still regurgitating information to councils and young people because it is one of the biggest deficiencies in the UK, with 81% of people affected. Most people think that in hotter countries you are more likely to have higher levels of vitamin D, that’s not the case either. In hotter countries you are more likely to wear sunblock which is another barrier against vitamin D absorption. Right now I’m trying to work with companies that make sunscreen, to come up with a product that would protect your skin from sun damage but would allow you to still absorb vitamin D.
My cousin also works in a pharmaceutical company so we are coming up with a vitamin D supplement. When I did the market research, one of the questions was, ‘would you rather take a supplement that is a tablet or a soluble form?’ Most people opted for the latter. I’d rather make health pleasurable than something that is seen as a chore like taking a tablet.
How did you get into campaigning in the first place?
I have always done public and motivational speaking and I’m even vocal through my social media platforms. The most important thing when it comes to campaigning is who you know. Your network is your net worth. I have built up such a big network through local organisations, schools and councils so I was able to get in contact and work with other charities and campaigners on their issues.
Obviously with this particular issue being so close to home with my cousin, and even with me just being a nerd, it wasn’t a chore for me to go and do all the research, I love doing it. When you love what you’re doing, you wake up thinking about it you just want to work on it all the time. I eat, breathe, sleep it.
At 20, you’ve achieved so much, it just goes to show that traditional routes like going to university aren’t necessary anymore and you can create your own path and successes using the internet and social media.
I completely understand the appeal of traditional routes especially when your parents have come from a third world country. They didn’t get that opportunity and want the best for you. I went back to my old school where the students are 80% Somali. In our community, parents are set on university even though sometimes the kids don’t really want to go. So when I showed up and told them I had amazing A-Level grades but that I didn’t want to go to university they were so shocked and asked me what my mum said and if my family disowned me!
I told them that when it comes to parents, you need to explain what your plans are. They don’t understand something they don’t know. If they understand what you want to do instead of university and see your plans they will accept it, if you have no plan, it’s a no go. The main reason parents want their children to go to university is because it’s a direct route – you get your degree, get an amazing job and earn an amazing salary. But what they don’t know is that if you don’t go to university but work hard enough you can get to that same stage.
I also did a talk at Southwark Council about employability and life outside university. There are apprenticeships out there and other programmes where you can also earn a salary. But because the government push university those opportunities are not able to be taken advantage of. I’m not taking away from university at all, it’s an amazing attribute to have but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t go.
In terms of my age, there are people who have been campaigning for decades, they have degrees and specialisms. When they stumble across what I’m doing and find out how old I am, they are taken aback. For me personally, being a hijabi, being black and being female, there are guaranteed barriers and obstacles but they are things that you are able to conquer. I feel like I have broken a lot of barriers in general. I want to be seen as someone who knows what they are talking about, forget my age or how I look. Any conference I go to or any talk I do, I will memorise statistics, I will do my research and I will know everything by heart. Nobody will ever be able to look at me and say that I’m wrong.
My mum is my biggest cheerleader, so when I told her university wasn’t for me she was so supportive, she knows that I can do whatever I put my mind to. As long as you have ambition and know what you want to achieve, there’s nothing that can stop you.
How much of your/ the campaigns success would you say is down to social media, do you think you’d be where you are without it?
I’m very hardworking, even if social media wasn’t there I would find a way. However social media is 100% the biggest reason why the campaign was approved, the reason why I get the opportunities I do, the reason why so many other campaigns and other charities are able to contact me. The whole campaign started on social media and THEN branched out to talks and campaign days. I started the campaign in October 2017 and it was government approved by December.
I’d worked for numerous companies doing promotion and social media marketing so I knew what I had to do to make this campaign a success: introduce the problem, raise awareness and then introduce the solution.
The idea of a personal brand is becoming increasingly important for business, is this important to you?
Definitely, I’m all about promoting positivity, self-love, self-development and empowerment, which has helped me more than I can say. Like I said, the nickname ‘Vitamin D Girl’ was coined for me so the campaign has indirectly linked to me personally and therefore I am automatically the physical advocate or the face of the campaign. So I wouldn’t want to do anything to tarnish that. With such a large following, people will look up to you whether you like it or not. Sometimes you just want to be the 19 year old you are but no, I have to keep it professional because in the long run it will work in my favour.
I only started Instagram last year, it’s much more of a visual thing, you just follow people because you like their style or photography or make up, but when it comes to Twitter you can verbally exercise your brain and affect change. On Instagram, people don’t tend to pay attention to captions because you just scroll and scroll but with Twitter people can interact much easier.
Social media is such a big tool and it’s great for networking and building a community. The support I get is crazy. It’s important to give back that same energy. I love collaborating with people, I’ve done everything from YouTube, podcasts, photoshoots and supporting brands I believe in. I’ll shout out accounts that I’m loving and it’s not for money or clout or anything, I just love what they are doing and I want to support things I believe in. I’m mentoring some girls at the moment who are sitting on ideas but don’t know how to execute them. My mum has this saying ‘if you have an idea naag noqo’ (be a woman) and just do it. Don’t sit on your ideas, get the knowledge you need and go for it.
But success doesn’t have a limit, you can always be better. Don’t be stagnant. Every day is progression for me and every day I’m working hard.
Follow Khadija @khadija.hx