UNbacked project helps Colombian refugees and Ecuadorians realize business dreams

A micro-credit system in Ecuador set up by the United Nations and a local foundation is fostering harmonious relations between Colombian refugees and the local population as the two groups work together to bring their small business dreams to fruition, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported today.The latest success story occurred today when the Integration for Progress shop – a collective business project that brought together 35 Colombian refugees and Ecuadorians in the capital city of Quito – opened its doors to the public with the help of the micro-credit system, the Community Credit Banks.“The Community Credit Banks make it possible for Ecuadorians and refugees to relate to each other,” said UNHCR Programme Assistant Angel Garcia. “By putting forward joint projects they realize they have the same needs, regardless of their nationality. Each group has to build a relationship of trust. It’s the only way they can gain support for their projects.”A joint venture of UNHCR and Fundacion Ambiente y Sociedad, a non-governmental organization (NGO), Community Credit Banks provides financial and emotional support for people like Jairo Martinez, a Colombian refugee who arrived in Ecuador two years ago. Today, Mr. Martinez stacked the shop’s shelves with rice, sugar and pasta while colleagues outside decorated the shop’s entrance with balloons and colorful garlands.“When you come to a new country, the question of how you are going to make a living is constantly on your mind,” he observed. “Any help is a blessing, but it is much, much better if you are given tools to build something through your own efforts.”The shop opened following 18 months of work by the nearly three dozen participants who received training from the FAS in accounting, administration and marketing. It is located in the poor and crowded Solanda neighbourhood, where large numbers of Colombians have settled in recent years. So far, the micro-credit system has provided funding for more than 100 projects, including small businesses that make and sell handicrafts, fast food and furniture. Like many participants, Mr. Martinez is hopeful about the future. “Right now, we are planning seven more projects, including a bakery and an internet café, but we want to wait and see how the shop goes first,” he said.

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