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A Word with Eliana Elias

Posted 14 August 2023 in EMpower News   |   Share


Recently, EMpower’s President & CEO Cynthia Steele spoke with Eliana Elias, co-founder of Minga Peru, an award-winning organisation that has been empowering indigenous women, young people, and communities in the Amazon since 1998. They spoke about sustained partnership, building solidarity, and staying hopeful during tough times.

EMpower is a longstanding funding partner of Minga FICE [Spanish acronym for Institutional Strengthening in Strategic Communications], and you have several other such partners. What would you like others to know or understand about the importance of long-term funding, and more importantly, long-term partnership?

For us, social change requires time. It's about identifying not only the needs of communities but also, and very importantly, all the resources that the community has—even those people living in extreme poverty. It means recognising their knowledge, their cultural wealth, the skills they have—as well as the material and natural resources they contribute to the process of change. 

One of Minga’s values is to reflect back, we call it mirroring (or “espejear” in Spanish), to communities a view of their richness and to accompany them in designing programmes so they can achieve the changes they desire. This requires profound respect for the time it takes, and not looking to impose our views. For us, this is what makes the change process appropriate for communities, and therefore sustainable. And all of this takes time. That's why relationships like the one we have with EMpower are so valuable. In fact, this year Minga is celebrating 25 years, and EMpower has been a great ally during this time. We believe this is partly because we share values. EMpower, in its long-term relationship, understands not only the funding aspect of projects you support, but you also understand the bigger goal, the larger institutional change. 

In summary, the relationship with EMpower is based not only on funding but also on respect, support, flexibility, sharing knowledge. There is a mutual admiration. Both Minga Peru and EMpower have grown together, and that brings us great joy. 

I love that, mutual admiration indeed. That's beautiful. Switching gears, Peru has had many difficulties and challenges over the past few years—both with the pandemic and its many effects and so much political upheaval. I'm sure our readers would be interested to know: what kinds of impacts are you seeing on young people and on communities in the Amazon? 

Just yesterday I returned from visiting the communities along the Marañón River, where I met with community promoters and young leaders. What I heard from these young leaders is that they feel that this prolonged and harsh crisis left them in a much more vulnerable position. They are concerned about their education and the limited opportunities they have for their own futures. But at the same time, I see them determined to make the most of every educational opportunity they have. They know they cannot rely only on adults in positions of power to solve everything. So they are determined to be the protagonists of their own lives, and to do it in a different way, not alone. I see a lot of solidarity among them, a lot of curiosity, and a lot of openness. 

That’s actually a good link to my next question because I think of you as someone who is also fundamentally optimistic. I wonder, in a world that these days is facing so many difficulties and feels so hard and harsh, what gives you hope and sustains your energy? 

I love this question. During my recent visit to communities in the Amazon rainforest, I met with people who support Minga’s programmes. It truly fills me with hope. It never ceases to amaze me: the capacity of human beings to recognise each other as equals in their humanity despite any differences in culture, age, nationality. To be moved by the growth of others and to desire to be part of it. Especially—as you said—in a world that constantly divides and confronts, having the opportunity to see people from different backgrounds come together. To simply celebrate the triumph of the human spirit is a gift that I will always be grateful for. 

That is such a beautiful closing note. You made me feel more hopeful just by hearing that. 

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