Sonia Salgado de Albornoz once performed her social worker duties on horseback, visiting the poorest of the poor in Camarones, a small city in northern Chile. There she would visit folks with few opportunities and parents who knew their children would have to leave home and family if they wanted a decent education.
Sister Salgado de Albornoz wanted things to be different. She wanted change. She wanted to improve lives. She wanted opportunities for folks, irrespective of their backgrounds.
She wanted not merely wished for things to be better. Sister Salgado de Albornoz would likely say a vast space exists between those two words. And she was savvy enough to know that actual, get-things-done change happens fastest by those empowered to change.
So she ran for mayor.
A Church convert, Sister Salgado de Albornoz' path to political office was blocked by two sizeable obstacles. First, she's a woman. Men, she says, still enjoy the dominant role in Chilean politics. Few women in the South American nation serve in elected office.
Second, Sister Salgado de Albornoz is black, a descendent of African slaves. Institutionalized slave trading may belong to history, but racial discrimination, she added, still exists.
Despite such struggles, Sister Salgado de Albornoz has answered to "Mayor Salgado de Albornoz" for the past 10 years. Those social worker wants of her past have become her mayoral mandate in Camarones. She says she has dedicated the past decade to opening new schools, building roads, supporting small businesses and "helping the low class advance."
She's especially excited about a school program she has helped develop in Camarones, allowing young students to learn employable agricultural skills without having to move to Santiago or other large Chilean cities.
Along the way, she said, "I have tried to keep the covenants I have made with the Lord."
Years ago, Sonia Salgado met Ciro Albornoz, a fellow Chilean and a returned missionary. "It was love at first sight." She accepted an invitation to listen to the missionary discussions, soon developed a gospel testimony and was baptized. The couple eventually married and are the parents of three children: Igor, 24, Karla, 19, and 15-year-old Daniel.
She has served in many Church positions and currently works with the young woman in her ward.
"I have tried to perform my Church callings with the same intensity as my mayoral duties," she said.
Sister Salgado de Albornoz was recently tempted by leaders of her political party to seek office in a larger city, but has opted to remain with her constituents in Camarones. She also serves as president of "Oro Negro" (black gold), a foundation group promoting opportunities to black Chileans.
"I have received a lot of strength from the Lord," she said.
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