Through RET International’s refugee integration project, made possible by the U.S. State Department´s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, six young refugee women in Sucumbíos, Ecuador, have created the “Network of Food Services”, an associative productive project. The abilities of each of these women make possible the management of a small restaurant, a catering service and a food & beverages delivery system.
“We are a family, we rely on each other and learn from one another” says the Network’s administrator, “It is a space where we build resilience, as refugees. “It is vital for day-to-day integration in our host community” adds another participant.
Their group operates under a sound structure in which each one of them, according to their skills and capacities, have a key role in the success of the organisation. Before the creation of the network in the RET programme, they each worked outside, either individually or with their family. “When it rained, we got wet, our children got sunburned in the street, the police would seize our tools.” … “Today we have a safe and dignified shelter for our children and ourselves.” … “The revenues from Monday to Friday are split between us all and allow us to provide for our families; the revenues from Sundays, when we cater for an event, allow us to cover maintenance costs.”.
The Network of Food Services does not only provide work for these six young women, it also opens employment opportunities, during events, for refugees who have more recently arrived. According to the UNHCR, an average of 900 displaced people arrive each month in Sucumbíos.
As part of the local value chain the Network of Food Services also strengthens the local economy and thus the local Ecuadorian population. In the near future the intention is to integrate young vulnerable Ecuadorian women. The business is in the process of being officialised, helped by the recommendations and evaluations of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health.
These six refugee women, despite their vulnerabilities in terms of health, protection and security, are examples of integration and participation in local development. The Ecuadorian community is their most regular and important client. In their short careers as micro entrepreneurs, public institutions such as the Unit for Sustainable Development of the Municipality of Lago Agrio and the Internal Revenue Service have contributed to building their capacities and skills through trainings. The Coca-Cola Company, as part of their corporate social responsibility, offered them a fridge for beverages.
RET is the organisation responsible for the implementation of the project. As such we observe that the development of the refugee population goes hand in hand with the development of the local community. Barriers and borders often exist only in people’s minds.
During RET’s 3 year programme (2012-2015) we have supported a total of 400 families who participate in this livelihoods component through support for productive projects and strengthened employability for vulnerable youth.
For those of you who speak Spanish, learn more by listening to what these young women have to say: http://goo.gl/OPGwES