How I Made It

Loizza Aquino, Mental Health Advocate & Non-Profit Founder

Loizza Aquino is an 18-year-old Toronto-based mental health advocate who started her own non-profit organization in 2015. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Loizza Aquino; @loizzaaquino

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?

I received a $70,000 community leadership scholarship from TD Bank to pursue my post-secondary education in Canada, and I decided to leave my home in Winnipeg and move to Toronto. I’m currently in my second year at the University of Toronto pursuing a major in mental health studies and international development studies, and a minor in urban public policy and governance.

What is your dream job after you graduate?

In a world that’s always changing and as a young person trying to find myself, it’s hard to have a concrete answer. Right now, my ideal job would be working for the United Nations and creating mental health policies and programs across the world.

Tell me about your biggest accomplishment to date—whether it was related to school or volunteer work or an extracurricular?

Being told that the events hosted by my non-profit, Peace of Mind—which aims to create a safe space to discuss mental health and suicide—have helped to save a life. When you prevent someone from attempting suicide, not only do you save that person, you also save a community and open up an opportunity to increase dialogue.

What would you say has been the most significant challenge in life you’ve had to face to date? How did you overcome it (or learn to live with it)?

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through was losing my best friend to suicide. His suicide was one of four high school student suicides that happened in Winnipeg within the span of one month. It became clear that we had a city filled with students who needed a safe space to talk about the affect the suicides had on us, and other mental health issues we have experienced—which is why I created Peace of Mind. My non-profit has helped me heal as I know that I can keep his memory alive.

When you’re feeling low about school or something else, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

When I’m down I like to go on a run or play some basketball. Spending time with my friends and meeting new people at the court helps me take my mind off of everything I have going on. There’s also nothing that beats the feeling of being the only girl on the court and showing the guys that girls can play too!

What did you receive your very first paycheque for? Do you think you were paid fairly for your work? 

My first job ever was working at Dairy Queen. I was 14 and paid minimum wage. I can’t complain because I was young and $200 seemed like a lot to me—but now I know that minimum wage is not anywhere reasonable when taking into account cost of living.

When you enter the workforce in your chosen field, do you expect to be paid equally to male counterparts with similar education and experience? 

Yes, I do. By the time I graduate, it’ll be 2021 and I refuse to be employed by a company that does not believe in equality.

What’s your best piece of advice for other young women who want to make a difference in the world?

Approach everything with a positive mindset and an open mind, and never doubt yourself. People will doubt you, question you and underestimate you—but if you don’t believe in yourself and your ability to create change, then it will be hard for people to follow in your footsteps.

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