Penn Manor High School student Gisela Espinosa got the shock of her life when she was asked to participate in a panel discussion this week and walked in the room to find Malala Yousafzai, the internationally known advocate for girls’ education, as the guest participant.
“I was already scared to speak in public, and then Malala walks in!” Gisela recalled. “I was excited and nervous.”
Gisela was participating in a “Resilient Youth” panel discussion that featured local refugee and immigrant youths and young adults who were selected for demonstrating leadership and courage in their communities, said Carrie Carranza of Church World Service Lancaster, which sponsored the discussion.
“I felt honored that they chose me out of the many younger DREAMers to participate,” said Gisela, who came to the United States from Mexico 13 years ago and is involved with Lancaster DREAMers, a support group started by CWS staff that advocates for immigrant rights and just immigration policies.
After the panel discussion, Gisela was able to talk with Malala, an experience she says she will share with her grandchildren.
“We talked about how each of us got to Lancaster and the struggles we shared,” Gisela said.
Malala came to Lancaster because of its reputation as one of the most welcoming communities in America for refugees.
While growing up in Pakistan, Malala became an advocate for girls’ education, defying the Taliban. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 — the youngest recipient to receive the award. Malala has been unable to return to her homeland because of her views.
Gisela said she hopes Malala’s visit has inspired people “to work together to move forward and create a better future for all people.”
Carranza praised Gisela for her involvement with Church World Service and her advocacy for immigrants’ rights.
“CWS is very proud to have Gisela working alongside us in our mission of promoting peace and justice,” she said. “She is only 17 but boldly fights for herself, her family and her community through sharing her story and being civically engaged.”
For a newspaper article on Malala’s visit, click here.