Elsa Espinoza Delgado: promoting youth leadership

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Elsa Espinoza Delgado: promoting youth leadership

Elsa Espinoza Delgado comes from the town of Copallin, in the Peruvian province of Bagua. Her father is a farmer of rice and cocoa. Life was no "golden cradle", says Elsa. At one point her parents separated and her mother – aged 17 and with two young children – "had to look for money anywhere to support us". She washed clothes, took in sewing, and worked as a housemaid and cleaner.

Elsa's life has been different. When she was 17, Elsa came to Chachapoyas, the capital of Amazonas region, to pursue her education. Her studies are funded by a church-based organization. Now 23, she is doing a degree in business administration and tourism. While she is determined to have a successful career and job stability, her desire is to dedicate her work for the good of her community, and less advantaged local people.

As the eldest child of five, Elsa often looked after her brothers and sisters while her parents worked. She has not forgotten her family's hard times and is very aware of social injustice, especially that suffered by the rural poor. Health workers, for example, "first see your face, and if you look like a peasant from the rural areas, they do not treat you [as] well as they treat the people from urban areas".  Such attitudes foster "marginalization", she believes. For example, she explains, "If you have no money, justice doesn't reach you."

Elsa is deeply concerned that everyone should get the opportunity to learn, convinced that "the only solution for leaving poverty behind is education". Low productivity and incomes in rural areas like hers mean that children leave school early and lose "the chance to get a job...they don't have the opportunities that other youth do". Although still a student, Elsa is doing what she can to address some of these issues. Together with university friends, she created a project called Manitos del Mañana (Little Hands of Tomorrow) that organises activities for children in a nearby rural area, to help them learn new skills and develop confidence.

Currently Elsa is working in Chachapoyas on a project aimed at strengthening opportunities for local organisations. She is also involved with Network InterQuorum, a youth leadership organisation, whose activities include arranging regional forums to discuss issues such as corruption, globalization, regional politics and environmental issues including climate change. This last topic is one of her overriding interests and concerns, and she expresses frustration at how little action educated people are prepared to take to mitigate its effects.

Elsa recognises that she is young and lacks real experience, but her commitment to equality of opportunity, environmental conservation and the strengthening of democracy – which she sees as inextricably linked – is firm. Improved access to services and markets are crucial for the rural areas, she says, because at the moment "health, justice and education [don't] reach everyone equally, and...I get angry that such things happen in our country."

In five years' time, when she has finished all her studies, including an MBA, Elsa plans to return to Copallin to share her skills and education, and develop it as a tourist destination.