By Raye Mocioiu. All Photos © Rabiah Diwah
Every year, Canada’s Walk of Fame, a national not-for-profit organization that works to shine a light on extraordinary achievers and their journeys, reaches out to Canadians to nominate a deserving young person for the Community Hero Program. Presented by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) and Scotiabank, this program recognizes an inspiring Canadian under 30 who positively impacts their communities and beyond. In 2021, the fourth annual year of the Community Hero Program, the winner was B.C. native Rabiah Dhaliwal, founder of the Voices for Hope foundation.
At just 22 years old, Rabiah Dhaliwal has already impacted countless lives for the better—and she’s only just getting started.
The activist, humanitarian, and pageant queen has long been an advocate for mental health resources and education, a mission that has taken her across Canada and her voice across the globe.
When she was in grade 11, Rabiah struggled deeply with her mental health. Her dark mental state, combined with a lack of healthy coping mechanisms or mental health support, led Rabiah to an attempted suicide. Her recovery, however, opened up a pathway that she had never before considered and changed her life forever.
Now, as a survivor of suicide, Rabiah is committed to lending her voice to champion awareness and education about mental health inequities, suicide prevention, and disability justice, not just in her community but throughout the nation. From acting as a voice for her country in the House of Commons to sharing her story with people on the other side of the world, Rabiah is achieving things that her “14-year-old self never thought were possible.”
“Having the opportunity to speak at the House of Commons was one of the greatest privileges and opportunities of my life,” shares Rabiah. “I remember being very nervous about the reception I would get from members of parliament who were present. Afterward, many government officials from various parties shared their mental health experiences, whether that be their own mental health struggles, or watching their loved ones go through difficulties. It was an eye-opening experience for me that proved to me that mental health is something we should all care about, across political lines, because it affects each and every one of us.”
As a neurodivergent youth of colour struggling with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, Rabiah has faced more than her fair share of challenges and adversities. Through it all, she has championed positivity, always looking for a way to use her voice to raise awareness, call for education, and build connections with others who may also be suffering.
In 2019, Rabiah was selected to kick off and be the face of World Cup winner and professional soccer player Mesut Ozil’s #YourStoryOurVoice campaign, where she shared her story with millions across the globe.
Being a part of the #YourStoryOurVoice campaign gave me the wonderful opportunity to shine a light on the importance of mental health and my own lived experiences at an international level. I was grateful to simply be able to share my experiences, and my only hope was that the campaign reach even one person who may be struggling and make them feel a little less alone.
Her humble expectations were greatly exceeded—after the campaign was launched, she was flooded with messages of support and encouragement as the campaign reached 80 million people across the globe.
“It was overwhelming in the best sense of the word! I spent a great deal of my childhood in and out of hospitals due to my mental health struggles. So, I’m simply most proud of surviving and persevering through adversity in a world where it often felt like the cards may be stacked against me. Learning the hundreds of stories of young people who said my voice and advocacy efforts gave them the courage to speak on their own experiences was truly an honour. It gave me the strength and motivation to continue my work and serves as a daily reminder of why I champion mental health awareness and education.”
Learning the power of sharing her story led Rabiah to create her foundation, Voices for Hope, focused on challenging mental health stigma through an intersectional lens, giving BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals a platform to share their experiences. Through the foundation, Rabiah is working to establish Canada’s first-ever “sensory hub” program, giving students a safe space to decompress when they need it.
“I came up with the idea to start a sensory hub program in schools after going through mental health difficulties in high school and post-secondary,” Rabiah says. “I didn’t feel like I had a safe space while at school to decompress when I was feeling anxious or experiencing a sensory overload.”
After working with a local hospital’s dementia unit to win a grant to buy sensory equipment for patients, Rabiah says that a light bulb went off in her head.
“I thought, why don’t we have sensory equipment in schools for students with mental health issues, autism, and sensory-processing disorders? Thus, the idea came to fruition. Right now, my team and I are engaging with diverse stakeholders to launch our first pilot program at a local school or youth centre. The sensory hub will be a therapeutic space with sensory technology, stim toys, special lighting, calming visuals, and sounds where students can go when they’re feeling overwhelmed.”
In 2021, Rabiah and Voices for Hope took on a noble relief effort, thanks to a grant from The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. This organization was developed by His Royal Highness Prince Philip to empower youth to lead service projects in the communities.
“A saying that really exemplified to me the importance of how the pandemic has affected us all in different ways is that while we all may be facing the same storm, we are in different boats, and some of our boats are not as well-equipped as others,” shares Rabiah.
“I wanted to do my part and use my sphere of influence to aid in relief efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to say that we donated 1000 wellness and self-care products to frontline workers at a local hospital and provided therapy microgrants for Indigenous people to ease some of the financial burden that comes along with accessing mental health treatment. We just launched our second round of funding and our goal is to keep growing our microgrant program to even more communities in need.”