While many have dreamt of a better life, Lisbeth Pino’s journey toward making her dream a reality has inspired a nation.
Earlier this year, the Ecuadorian government named Pino, MPH’18, among its ‘Women Who Build Ecuador,’ a designation the country reserved for pioneers who “leave their stories in time, which cause breezes that will become new winds of hope and equality.”“We still live in an unfair and macho society that has violated women’s rights,” Ecuador President Lenín Moreno said while announcing the list during a celebration of International Women’s Day in March. “But women are courage; they are struggle; they are sacrifice; they are work; they are overcoming; they are successful; they are, by the way, the future.”
Pino’s journey from the rural community of Pallatanga, Ecuador, to Western embodies many of those traits.
“It was a happy childhood. My mother did such a great job even though life was very hard for her,” said Pino of her mother, who raised three girls on her own. “She always taught us to be thankful, even if it seemed like we didn’t have anything, and she always encouraged us to study, to do our best.”
When she finished high school, Pino told her mother she wanted to pursue higher education.
“I didn’t want to stay in our small town because the cycle of poverty repeats; it’s really hard to break. I needed to get my education and that meant moving to the city – no matter what.”
A devout Christian, she originally planned to do mission work. She contacted the Catholic Church in Riobamba – the capital city of the Chimborazo province in central Ecuador – and secured a place to live with the nuns at the convent. To prepare for school, she purchased a computer with the prize money she won for finishing as the top high school student in Ecuador.
Pino arranged to meet with professors at Chimborazo Polytechnic University, to learn about available scholarships. “I needed to pass a semester first so they could gauge my performance and see that I could handle it,” she explained.
“That first term was hard. I didn’t have enough food; it was difficult to concentrate. But I managed to complete my first semester in health-care outreach and education with the highest mark. So I did receive the scholarship. It covered my full education: tuition, living expenses, everything. It was amazing – $100 per month, but I learned how to administer and distribute it in a strategic way,” she said.
“In the middle of my program, one of my professors suggested that since I was planning to travel the world and reach out to people, I should learn English.”
Pino approached a private American Institute that taught English courses and inquired about scholarships. The director offered to fund the first of her English levels so they could evaluate her abilities. She did so well that the institute granted her a scholarship for all the remaining levels.
Thankful for her good fortune, Pino studied during the day and worked on her English skills at night.
Faced with a shortage of teachers, the director of the school approached Pino about becoming an English teacher, even though she was still completing the last level of her English studies. She agreed to do so and taught for two years, saving enough money to bring her family to the city.
(Today, her mother and sisters are thriving in Riobamba. One sister is in second year chemical engineering; the other was just admitted to medical school.)
When Pino completed her undergraduate degree, she received a notice from the Ecuadorian government declaring that she was the top student in the country. As such, she was awarded a scholarship to pursue any masters program at any university anywhere in the world.
“It was amazing,” Pino said. “My mother cried.”
Her professors asked her to consider Canada – ‘a young country with so many things going on there.’
So, she began researching universities in Canada. “On the third day, I got to Western’s website and thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is really nice.’ It was well-organized and had all the information I needed; it was just perfect. It was so easy to navigate compared to the other websites. I thought, ‘This is my university.’”
Pino enrolled at Western and completed her Master of Public Health, including a 12-week practicum placement with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Washington, D.C. She studied HIV/AIDS from the perspective from Indigenous people in Latin America.
And she is not finished yet.
Pina was subsequently admitted into the Western PhD program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences where she is focusing on rural communities and nutrition. Her plans include conducting a comparative analysis between Ecuador and Canada – a developing country versus a developed country – hoping her research will broaden the knowledge base for single mothers trying to raise healthy children with limited resources.
Pino is grateful for her good fortune and attributes her success to her unshakable faith. It is central to who she is; it defines the very core of her character. Her faith has played a pivotal role in her journey to date and it will continue to guide and comfort her as she continues along her path.
“My faith plays a pivotal role on who I was, how I arrived in Canada, and where I am going – everything else comes second. I will be able to take-away with me from Canada, not only the academic piece, but also my missionary work that I am doing in North America.”