In celebration of the launch of the Joggo Purpose Backpack, we have decided to spotlight three incredible individuals that embody our mission: working towards the greater good. These young Changemakers aren’t letting their age stop them from educating people of all generations on some of the most important issues in today’s society. By using their voices to promote social change, Wali Shah, Loizza Aquino, and Diana Smendra represent the power that youth have to make a difference.
Diana has big dreams and the drive to match. The young actress and pageant winner not only has her sights set on Hollywood, but on helping people understand more about health and the environment. After curing herself of asthma by switching to a raw vegan diet, Diana decided to spread the word about the power of raw food, both for the body and the planet.
So why don't you just tell me a little bit about your acting career so far, when you started performing and where you're at now.
I always wanted to try acting when I was in elementary school, but I never really had the opportunity to do so because I came from a small town. I’m from Barrie and there’s not too much going on there. My high school was really big on the arts and they were holding on auditions for Les Miserables. I didn't even know what a musical was back then, I just knew that it had to do with singing, acting, and dancing and that's my thing. So I auditioned and I got the role of little Cosette, and I realize that I really liked doing that. So I just kept doing more and more shows, doing high school theatre, community theatre, and I ended up making my professional debut in theatre with some actors from the Stratford Festival.
Was that [the play] Sunday in the Park with George?
Yes it was.
So you really enjoy the stage acting.
Oh, I love stage acting, but I don't think I want to go into stage acting and I realized that this year. Once I moved to Toronto last year, I realize that I really loved camera acting. I love the detail that you can put into camera acting, whereas on stage everything is very big. I like that [camera acting is] a lot more focused and internal. I like the freedom of being able to do different takes, so I want to do more of that. I've started to do short films over the past year in Toronto and the GTA, and one of them went on to the Los Angeles Film Festival where I won ‘Best Actress in an Indie Film.’
That's a pretty big deal because that would have been your first film credit, correct?
Yes. I also won ‘Honourable Mention for Actress in an Indie Film’ in the Top Shorts Film Festival. I'm glad I did the film.
So that movie was about a young girl who was trying to embody the woman she sees on TV. How close to real life do you think that is to you personally, as well as for other young women?
I think it's a real thing for every young woman. Not even just women but everyone, even men, as well. We all try to embody that perfect image. I bet you even Victoria’s Secret models get insecure. Everyone has a different definition of what beauty is, so that's what makes it tough.
Especially in the entertainment industry, you’re so bombarded with images of beauty.
I also did Miss North Ontario a couple times and now I'm moving on to Miss Universe Canada 2018, so you see that in the pageant world, as well.
So how did you get into doing the pageants?
I just saw an ad one day and I realized that there was a lot of opportunity to get involved in the community. I still am very passionate about this, but especially back then, I was super passionate about healthy eating. I used to suffer from bad asthma and allergies and when I started eating a diet of raw foods, all that was cured. I wanted to spread my message so I did Miss North Ontario and through that I was able to be involved with so many other things. I got involved with the Green Party of Canada and I started to work with Bonnie North, who is the Green Party leader in Barrie. I spoke at some events, like the Barrie March Against Monsanto, and told my story. I walked in the Barrie Pride Parade, where I got to meet the Green Party leader of Ontario. I spoke at lots of school and churches, and ended up holding my own seminar on healthy eating, which was great. I fundraised a lot during that time, as well. Over the past two years I've fundraised over $2000 for families in Northern Ontario who have children with cancer. I collected 200 pairs of shoes for a charity called Soles for Souls, and I also raised $300 for Cardiac Kids.
Would you say that this all came out of starting to do the pageants?
Oh yeah. The pageant isn't your typical beauty pageant, it’s more about what you’ve done for the community, your confidence, and your public speaking skills. I ended up winning best public speaker, actually. The pageant is also about developing business skills. I ended up placing second runner up.
That’s amazing. So how did you end up at Miss Universe Canada?
I was chosen for that by the gentleman who runs Miss Universe Canada. He was on the panel at Miss North Ontario and he chose three girls to do it and I was one of them. It wasn't really my plan to do that, I just wanted to do Miss North [Ontario] to gain the benefits of that, like getting involved in the community and whatnot, and then I was chosen to do that.
How are you preparing for that?
Obviously taking better care of my health, I’m going to have to fundraise money for Free the Children, I’m going to have to practice my political knowledge...but it’s still very far away. It’s in a year from now, in the fall of 2018.
If you were to win Miss Universe Canada what would be the next step?
You would go on to represent Canada at Miss Universe. That would be really cool.
Are you still a vegan?
Do you plan on getting involved in any other organizations that have a focus on the vegan diet or animals?
Yes, my goal is to obviously continue acting, but I really look up to Leonardo DiCaprio and I want to do what he does. I love how he’s so passionate about the environment and how he uses his voice to advocate for causes that don’t have much of that voice. I really want to do that. I would love to meet him or work with him, or even start my own charity.
Any plans of moving down to LA?
Maybe eventually, but not now. I’m training now. I decided to go to school for acting because I like studying with other people. We’re all building each other up, whereas in the audition world, you're all competition.
That seems like an excellent tactic. So up until this point, what challenges have you faced in your career?
There are obviously a lot of challenges with anything you do. With fundraising events, sometimes you put out as much as you can and maybe not a lot of people come out. But you have to keep doing it. It’s the same with acting, people are always telling you no. But you have to know that you're good enough and keep going.
Are you still auditioning now or is it on a pause to go through your program
I put it on a pause right now because I want to take some time to master my craft. I want to be ready to audition, when I start I want people to ask, ‘who is that?’ Because I look so young, it gives me an advantage, so I can wait a little while before I start auditioning again.
Asides from Leonardo DiCaprio, who would you say inspires you, both in charity work and your acting career?
In my acting career, I’d say Johnny Depp because he’s able to play many different characters but adds a unique sense of himself to every role, along with creativity. I think that’s really cool. With fundraising, Siera Bearchell, who is Miss Universe Canada right now. She’s done a lot of fundraising; she's built a school in Kenya and she's won some major awards. But I also really look up to her because she competed in Miss Universe last year and she gained a lot of weight throughout her reign as Miss Canada and before she went to Miss Universe. She didn't let that bring her down and ended up placing really well, but she was getting a lot of body shame. Because she pulled through that, she ended up becoming one of Canada’s ‘Top 10 People’ for Canada 150.
That’s very inspirational. What would you say is your end goal in terms of where you'd like to be professionally and where you want to take your fundraising?
I want to act in television and film and be a philanthropist on the side. I’d like to be a speaker and share my message on healthy eating and hopefully one day open a restaurant for raw vegan food. I think it’s really interesting how you can make so many different things with just fruits and vegetables...you just don’t know about it. I’d like to raise more awareness around that. If we all try to eat more like that, it would put the environment in a much better position. Nothing comes in plastic wrapping, its great. There’s definitely lots to do.
By changing her lifestyle and mindset regarding food, Diana was able to drastically improve her health. With the health of others and the environment in mind, she will continue to be an advocate for the vegan lifestyle. To get a taste of one of Diana’s favourite vegan recipes and to check out her demo reel, visit her Youtube channel