Angela's infectious smile!
When we arrived at Arepas 1A, owner Ángela’s kind smile made me grin before either of us had even said a word. As the others stood outside and exchanged ‘good mornings’ and ‘how are you’s’, I was immediately ushered into the back of the shop by Ángela’s husband Bertulfo, to see the fresh corn kernels being milled into a wettish yellow mush.
As I stood, mesmerised in the early morning sun by the mechanical whirring of the milling machine and the irregular plopping of the corn into the bucket below, Bertulfo explained to me the difference between arepas de chócolo and white arepas; ‘for great chócolo, you need the sweet corn when it’s really fresh’ he said, as he squeezed a kernel between his thumb and finger; ‘for white arepas, you use mature white corn’. As Bertulfo carried on with his explanation, I couldn’t help but join in as he sifted through the kernels in the funnel of the machine, picking out stray corn hairs and other bits of organic matter. This little ritual is how every day begins for Bertulfo, as Ángela shouts greetings to passing neighbours and confidently strides around her shop, moving, sorting and preparing for the coming day’s production of between 250 and 550 arepas.
Ángela and Bertulfo, part of our ‘Bringing Hope’ project, started a family arepa business in Ibague to give themselves and their children an opportunity for stable employment. After some years, having struggled with falling demand due to economic hardship in the region, the family moved to Comuna 13 in Medellín. Once they had arrived in Medellín, they were visited by Interactuar’s own Beatriz Navarro. Beatriz was at the time working on a project in conjunction with el País Vasco, going door-to-door asking the neighbourhood small business owners if they were interested in being involved in the project. The basis of the project was to build, consolidate and strengthen the corporate image of each small business - giving the entrepreneurs an opportunity to work with Interactuar’s design centre to create an appropriate business image, logo, business cards, uniforms etc. Together for Colombia then took on the project as part of our crowd-funding venture and promised to give additional support to Àngela and Bertulfo, as well as the other ‘Bringing Hope’ beneficiaries. Bertulfo and Ángela, who had been looking for ways to regain some of the business they had lost in Ibague, leapt at the opportunity that seemed to have fallen from the sky right into their laps!
Since the project began, Arepas de Chócolo 1A has come on leaps and bounds. The biggest change has been location. Previously the business was run from a tiny house constructed from mud concrete and cane frame, where the arepas were cooked on a one plate hob and served through a crumbling window hatch. Bertulfo, a cleaning fanatic, was ashamed of his own business, which would have been immediately shut down by the food standards and health agency should they ever have visited.
The new premises are obviously a huge joy to the couple. With brightly painted walls, beautifully shining equipment and spotless surfaces (that Bertulfo has scrubbed and scrubbed without the fear of causing collapse), Ángela and Bertulfo have been able to build a brand that they are proud of. Through the training seminars that your donations have helped to provide, the couple have learnt accountancy, marketing, hygiene, costing, pricing and food handling skills that are now an indispensable part of the business model.
'At one time, we had a woman working with us who we simply weren’t able to continue paying for her work. We were expecting her to be angry and leave, but when we told her she said she understood and still wanted to help. She ended up staying with us for a year, with no pay! Can you imagine?!’. And funnily yes, I can imagine. Being around people like this, who have turned their livelihood into an art and into a passion, makes you realise how powerful your help is. Ángela and Bertulfo came to Medellín looking for any way to turn their lives around. What they found was an unexpected opportunity, some much needed support and a love and passion for what they do.
Your help has been, and continues to be, a crucial part of the success of Arepas 1A. From Àngela, Bertulfo and as ever, from us at Together for Colombia, thank you for all you have given and continue to give in our quest to provide sustainable alleviation of poverty for small business owners in Colombia!
The arepas are shaped in metal rings
Angela and Bertulfo