Barriers have never scared away Mary Ann Arizaga. If anything, all they have done is motivate her further to find unique solutions to what she identifies as some of the most pressing problems in her community and those around the world: Global warming, environmental consciousness, mental health resources, and a wealth of opportunities for people to improve their situations.
The first barrier Mary Ann burst through was the lack of availability in her city of Talara, Peru, for a good education. The public schools were low quality, but she found a boarding school, The High Performance School of Lambayeque, that would satisfy her thirst for knowledge. Yet there, too, laid a barrier of competing with hundreds of applicants for limited space. To nobody’s surprise, Mary Ann stood out and was offered admission.
“It was because I wanted to have a high quality education and where I was coming from there weren’t the opportunities I craved,” Mary Ann said. “Especially after attending a LALA bootcamp, I realized how there were people that were being exposed to much better opportunities than I was and that motivated me to find a way to get one too.”
For example, Mary Ann did not have an understanding of how one could pursue studying abroad in the United States for college or even finding any sort of external opportunity that her school was not directly offering, but she felt empowered by those she met at LALA to find a way, which has led to her talent for opportunity hunting.
“Literally there are no opportunities in my city, so if you are not actively out there trying and finding things, you will not find them,” Marry Ann said. “Even though I am very dedicated to my studies, I never liked that educational institutions would only tell you about them if you had good grades and they deemed you able to perform well, so I took matters into my own hands to find meaningful opportunities I could take part in, and that has continued on into my opportunity minding mindset and trying to to maximize the use of my talents like art.”
Her relationship with art, for example, developed out of her ability to gain a full scholarship to the boarding school of her dreams, which then led to her taking a visual arts elective and realizing the passion she had for that sector.
“Getting this full scholarship that allowed me to attend this boarding school is fully responsible for my English speaking ability and in learning how to develop meaningful projects in my community,” Mary Ann said. “When I had to pick an elective I ended up choosing visual arts, and that opened my eyes to the art world, which I have fallen in love with.”
Combining her environmental focus with visual arts, Mary Ann has produced art pieces made from recyclable materials and taught kids and young adults in her community how to do the same. Not only that, but she has led beach cleaning programs, which is of vital importance to her city that sees a lot of industrial use and therefore pollution. Mary Ann has even coordinated these efforts with the local authorities to help her and the other volunteers garner the necessary materials to conduct the beach cleanups.
She also finds mental health of the utmost importance, trying to support people around the world online through “Antídoto” to give them access to professional resources. Currently she is moving toward spreading the importance of accepting emotions and caring about everyone's mental health, working along with other organizations to improve her project. Her motivation is to prevent other young people from suffering the consequences of stress and emotional desbalance. Mary Ann, for one, found solace in becoming more spiritually minded.
“Talking to my pastor I realized that all of us at some point reach a point where we are called upon by something within us and it doesn’t mean we are depressed or anxious but rather that we have to listen to our inner selves,” Mary Ann said. “I am Catholic but was not religious and didn’t practice until I had these sorts of moments and realized I didn’t feel fulfilled, and religion helped me fill that void even though I am very scientifically informed, I found solace more specifically in the spirituality of it all and how you see things.”
Her journey knocking down barriers and making the people, community, and eventually the world around her a better place continues as she becomes the youngest member of the 2020 Academy cohort, getting permission once again from her school to go above and beyond and excel on the path to uplifting herself and those around her.