A tragedy inspired Loizza Aquino to create a safe space for youth to share experiences and overcome the shame many feel in speaking about mental health and suicide.
#ImmigrationMatters in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Cultivating compassion in the community
Born in the Philippines, Loizza Aquino was just a year old when her family moved to Winnipeg in 2000. She grew up in the city’s large and closely knit Filipino community.
Sadly, in June 2015 Loizza’s best friend Miguel took his own life. Miguel’s death was one of 4 youth suicides in Winnipeg in a single month. They had a devastating impact on the community.
In her grief over Miguel’s death, she came up with an idea to prevent more suicides from happening around her.
“I realized that finding the answer to why this is happening wasn’t going to do as much as trying to create solutions to make sure that this doesn’t happen again”, says Loizza.
She started a not-for-profit organization called Peace of Mind as a safe place for youth to talk about mental health and suicide. “The more that you talk, the more normalized it becomes. The more normalized it becomes, the easier it is to ask for help”, she explains.
Loizza has not looked back since. Her organization has held a series of events to bring youth, parents and mental health experts together.
In 2017, a grant of $11,000 from the province allowed her to organize the largest such event so far, with 700 students at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People in Winnipeg.
Following the gathering, many people approached Loizza to tell her how these conversations helped them to heal, or to reach out to those in need.
When asked about the impact of her work on the community, she answers “when you save one life, you save the whole community”.
Jelynn Dela Cruz, Vice President for Student Life of the University of Manitoba Student Union, spoke at the Manitoba Theatre event.
“Peace of Mind has given countless young people a safe space where they can express what mental health means to them, listen to different perspectives on mental illness, and learn from each other. People like Loizza have that resilience to drive change in the right direction every single day”, Jelynn says.
Now a mental health and international development studies major at the University of Toronto, Loizza has brought Peace of Mind events to campus. Her hard work has not gone unnoticed.
In 2018 she received the RBC Top 25 Immigrant Award and the RBC Youth Award for her mental health awareness work. She is also a TD Scholarship for Community Leadership recipient.
The accolades have pushed Loizza to work even harder to affect positive change in society. In March 2019, she and her friend Daniyal Kashif launched another not-for-profit organization, Leaders of Today. Its mission is to create opportunities for all young people in Canada.
“Loizza doesn’t stop with ‘just good enough’ and always puts the needs of others before hers”, says Daniyal. “She is currently working to make changes to the mental health amenities at the University of Toronto. This is just the beginning for Loizza”.
When asked what advice she can offer to other youth, Loizza says, “we are very lucky to live in Canada. Embrace all opportunities our country has to offer”.
Immigration profile: Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Immigrants in Winnipeg represent a quarter (24%) of the population.
- The Philippines is the biggest source country of immigrants in Winnipeg, followed by India and China (excludes Hong Kong and Macao).
- A majority, 65%, of all immigrants to Winnipeg between 1980 and 2016 came as economic immigrants, while less than a quarter (22%) were sponsored by family and 13% were refugees.
Did you know?
- Between 2011 and 2016, Winnipeg added 39,000 immigrant workers to the workforce.
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