From selling on the streets, to turning into a successful businesswoman.
In her younger years, Beliza Coro Guairacaja used to sell fruits and vegetables on the streets of Guayaquil. She grew up in the province of Chimborazo (Ecuador) in an indigenous community dedicated to agriculture and domestic animal husbandry. When she was just four years old, she moved to the city with her family, in search of a brighter future. As a member of the Puruhá culture, her destiny had already been plotted. And certainly, it did not include access to higher education or a professional career. Instead, she was expected to comply to certain social, cultural and economic standards. However, Beliza had other plans for herself.
She felt as it was time for her to break down those barriers that society had established for indigenous poor women. While selling groceries on the streets she had experienced violence, chauvinism and insecurity. But the strongest feeling was that of inequality. While she was selling tomatoes and beans, she saw children in their school uniforms, with their bookbags. She desperately wished to be one of them. At that point, no one would have thought that, years later, she would be working on Proniño. A project of Telefonica which aims at getting uneducated children off the streets, help them study and eradicate child labour.
As Beliza came from a poor family, she initially was unable to receive any kind of education. She had heard that because of being a girl, she could not pursue a successful career and she would not have a bright future in sight. Her parents left their differences apart and Beliza and her sister were able to go to primary and secondary school. Which implied a huge progress: Due to the violence her mother had experienced when she was a girl, she could not finish school.
Once she graduated high school, she had the possibility to attend Law School at San Francisco de Quito University, by means of the Ethnic Diversity Program. The fact of being a lawyer would allow her to measure her abilities and help other women to break down the social barrier that prevent them from having more lawyers, scientists, doctors, and executives in high management. “We need to have the courage to break down stereotypes and go as far as we want, starting with education as a basic element,” she told to El Comercio.
As a law student, she stood out for her high grades. To an extent that Beliza became the first Puruhá indigenous woman in graduating with honors. Afterwards, she travelled to London, where for the first time she spoke at a conference about children in Latin America, their lack of education and the problem with child labour.
Nowadays, Beliza works an Expert Lawyer in Governmental Projects for Latin America and for the Regional Director in Latin America of the Telefónica Group. Apart from that, she also is an ambassador for One Young World, an activist and a motivational speaker. However, her graduating Law School was just the beginning. After completing a master’s degree in Spain, she went for a second one in Universidad Carlos III. Those achievements have been made possible thanks to Academic Excellence Scholarships. At the moment, Beliza is in the process of doing a PhD. She used to live in Madrid, but now she does not have a fixed address: She travels a lot, so she lives between Latin America and Europe.
She still wears her indigenous attire and her long hair is tied with traditional ribbons, as a symbol of respect for her roots, her grandmother and ancestors. Whenever she visits Ecuador, she shares her story with her community, setting an example for young girls to pursue their dreams. She has become an inspiration for many indigenous girls who embrace with hope and conviction the ideals of self-improvement. “There simply are no limits. Life is not determined by any factor of the environment, our origin, skin colour or economic situation. Instead, it is determined for our abilities, hard work, discipline and our sense of responsibility. Let’s give ourselves the opportunity to move forward by believing in our talents”, which she explains in an interview for Talent Women.
Beliza is an example of outdoing oneself and a role model that can help people to overcome challenging stigmas and rigid canons of behaviour imposed by society. In the end, those who dare to break social constructs prove that stereotypes are just meaningless constraints. And what is even more important: they inspire others to break them to.
Photo: Beliza Coro