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!
Dear Friends of Comuna 13,
I hope this message finds you well and that 2015 is so far bringing good health, happiness and prosperity to you!
With August right around the corner we are getting excited here in Medellín for La Fería de las Flores. The fería is emblematic of the ‘Paisa’ (regional) culture and is celebrated for 10 magical days across the whole city. There are about 130 events throughout the barrios (neighbourhoods) of Medellín, including live music competitions and shows, horse fairs, and a number of the most spectacular flower parades. The excitement is palpable in the city and I for one certainly can’t wait for the festivities to begin!
We are currently working on a resource allocation mini-project with the Bringing Hope beneficiaries. By working with them to reassess their needs according to their changing business situations, we will be able to better define how the donation funds can be spent in the most effective way.
Whilst the assessment is getting underway, I’d like to take this opportunity to present to you another one of the Comuna 13 beneficiaries - Margarita Maria Echandía.
María, whose business is called ‘Manualidades MyM’, makes handmade jewelry and accessories that she sells to distributors in the city centre. María only had one client when she started her small business 21 years ago, making ribbon flowers with her sister. As the years went on, María’s business expanded to more diversified products, a larger production team and a wider client base. She built a network through recommendations by word of mouth and has had to continue diversifying her products to keep up with demand – although her most popular product is still the original ribbon roses.
Three years ago María discovered she had a tumor in her brain. It was, imaginably, an incredibly difficult time for María and her family, as she provides for not only her own children, but also helps care for her parents, nieces and nephews. Thankfully with the help of her God and support of her family María survived was able to continue working.
María lives for the enjoyment, and creative and emotional outlet that her work brings her and now is hoping to invest in a specialised machine to increase her output. To further diversify and strengthen her business she has also started making handmade chocolates for special occasions.
We hope, with your help, to give María the financial means to grow the wonderful business she has already started. She has shown amazing courage, tenacity and huge dedication to an occupation that she obviously loves.
As donations continue to come in we will keep you updated on María’s progress.
As ever, we are incredibly grateful for the contributions that you make and would love to hear from you with any questions or comments.
So until next time, take care!
I hope this message finds you well. I am writing on behalf of Corporation Interactuar and the 10 families taking part in this project to say thank you. We are ever so grateful for your continued support in 2015!
It has been over a year since we started supporting entrepreneurs in Medellin’s most violent neighborhood. San Javier, as known as Comuna 13, is considered the most dangerous district of the city. At the hands of drug cartels, local gangs, guerillas and paramilitary groups, it has been dominated by violence. Nowadays, the community thrives in matter of innovation (with escalators to make people’s lives easier and graffiti coloring the houses, for example), but the neighborhood is still hostile.
Being in such violent place, having a clean way to provide for a family is actually a challenge. But some people are willing to change their reality, develop their community, and create alternatives to violence by generating jobs. Some people want to make a difference through entrepreneurship, and that’s why we are so glad to have you, donors, to help us support them.
In the last Bonus Day, this March 2015, we received USD1162 in donations to this project. We were in the 54th position on the ranking of projects on GlobalGiving, and we are really proud of it. Really thankful because we met people like you. Because thanks of your donations, we will be able to provide them with trainings so they can improve their businesses. Thanks of amazing people like you, we will offer them the tools they need to grow. With long-term visions and through business plans, they become more and more success oriented. This way we offer them an option but the violence. This way we are building a brighter future to these people.
We will back to you soon with more news about our courageous entrepreneurs. Keep update about our projects also through our social media, and don´t forget to spread the cause by sharing this story with your relatives, friends, coworkers or acquaintances.
We need to continue bringing our support to these families living in Comuna 13. We are transforming lives that will further transform other ones. How? Entrepreneurship is the answer.
Happy New Year! We hope 2015 brings you strength, energy and passion to turn your dreams to reality! Corporación Interactuar and the 5 families in this project are sincerely grateful for your support throughout the entire last year. I am writing you to describe you the current status of the project.
A year ago, we started a bouncy journey we promised to be in for the long run. We met ten courageous entrepreneurs who wouldn’t give in the difficulties they face in their neighborhood, amazing human beings who struggle to provide for their family in a clean and decent way, despite the hostile environment they live in. We created this project for them. Then we found you, big-hearted human beings who donated to this project from your own money. We are so glad you joined us! Isn’t it a good feeling? Knowing that there’s something out there you can leave your footprint on? We are transforming lives that will further transform other ones. It goes on and on.
Now, here we are, after one year, thankful for every step we took, every checkpoint we passed and every story we found. Together. We need to continue bringing our support to these families living in Comuna 13. This district of Medellín has been trying to recover from its tumultuous past for years now and its inhabitants are trying to make a living the best way they can. The 10 entrepreneurs we support through this project need to enhance their small businesses more than ever.
We are preparing the steps for a new needs assessment these micro entrepreneurs have so that we can know what we can do for their businesses and families. Since the overall environment in the neighborhood continues hostile, running a business is quite a challenge and it’s the only clean way to provide for an entire family in the same time. Stay with us this year and help these families help themselves.
If you have any relative, friend, coworker, acquaintance who might be interested in investing their money in a good cause, share this story with them. Let them know there’s more about Colombia, there’s a rising country that’s developing also with the help of good hearted people just like you.
Make a New Year resolution to give a chance to others. You can give these entrepreneurs the chance to overcome the hostility they live in and provide a brighter future for themselves and their family. Choose from a one-time donation, a recurring donation or a gift card to your loved ones. Each of them counts.
In order to improve our campaign and approach, we appreciate your feedback on the communication between us in 2014. Also, we would love to hear what made you stay close to us and support our cause and what we can do more to contribute to these projects.
Thank you for being yet another example of people who restore our faith in humanity. We bow before you.
Note: ‘Transform the lives of 5 entrepreneurs in Colombia’ is part of the Together for Colombia campaign that we developed in order to raise awareness on the social and economic reality of this country and involve the international community in changing it to the better. Keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Looking forward to hear from you,
The 10 families involved in this project are constantly working towards improving their lives through the businesses they founded. And this happens thanks to you and your involvement.
Comuna 13 thrives in matter of innovation and entrepreneurial activities and these micro entrepreneurs work hard to bring their contribution to the local market. Your support and encouragement help them move forward. These entrepreneurs are thankful every day for the new opportunities this project provides them. With long-term visions and thorough business plans, they become more and more success oriented.
Your gift shows them it’s possible. It helps them see that they are not alone in this and determines them even more to never stop working for achieving their dreams. The project is ongoing and we invite you to make a gift at your choice, by selecting a donation option here.
Note: ‘Bringing hope to 10 families in Comuna 13’ is now part of the Together for Colombia campaign that we developed in order to raise awareness on the social and economic reality of this country and involve the international community in changing it to the better. Keep in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or read the stories on our blog.
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