Making Sweets, Building a Better Future
“We were caught in the middle. It was terrible. Some stayed. Some of us left,” says Rosely Robledo, 29, remembering seven years earlier when the town of Bojayá in the Chocó Department where she lived was caught amidst a tug of war between leftist FARC fighters and right-wing paramilitary units who were fighting for control of this part of western Colombia.
Like many others who escaped the brutality of the country’s long-standing civil conflict, Rosely left everything behind and became one of the 5.2 million Colombians displaced by the violence. Without an education and a support system to help her, she struggled to find work. As an Afro-Colombian woman, she faced the added challenge of discrimination.
Having moved to the northern city of Barranquilla, she learned about a work cooperative that was being created by PADF and other partners. The cooperative would not only give Rosely and 120 other women the opportunity to work, but also a financial stake in the company.
Two years since its founding, the Coopradal cooperative has built a small factory that produces popular Afro-Colombian sweets which are later sold under the cooperative’s own Dulafros brand to local supermarkets or on the streets by coop members. Many members who used to manufacture sweets from home, often using unhygienic processes, now agree that the project has improved the overall manufacturing process and working conditions. It has also increased incomes and the amount of time workers are able to spend with their families.
“They have realized that they are business women and owners of the company. They’re acquiring independence,” says María Herrera Miranda, Coopradal’s legal representative. “They are also starting to think that this could eventually help the future of their own children.”
Rosely agrees. “As a result of this work,” she says, “my children will be able to go to school. I also hope to study one day.”