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Overcoming Adversity with a Smile

By: Loza Leon, C.


Marcela has a constant, contagious smile. Her smile lights up her kitchen and automatically draws smiles from everyone around.

It is 1 PM and she does not stop frying green plantains. A young boy she’s hired quietly packs the snack bags of plantains so he can sell them later on the streets of Ibarra, a city in northern Ecuador.

Marcela has lived in Ecuador since early 2016 when she fled violence in Cauca Department, located in the southwestern part of Colombia. As she settled in Ibarra (120 km from Quito, the capital) with her family and the little belongings she was able to carry, UNHCR and its partner organization HIAS noticed the potential Marcela and her family had to be part of the Graduation project, an innovative approach that aims to support refugees in search of dignified livelihoods.

When Marcela’s family started in April, her daughter remembered that Marcela was great at making plantain chips and identifying good locations to sell the chips.

With the technical guidance they received from their mentor, they were able to scout out suitable locations, as well as determine the price in order to turn a profit.

With the first conditional cash transfer they received, the family purchased start-up equipment to process plantains.

Marcela and her family of four make an estimated $10-15 USD a day and have a savings jar for the extra income they generate on a daily basis. Based on demand, the family hired a Colombian in his late teens to sell the plantain chips on buses and at traffic lights in the afternoons. Marcela plans to open up a savings account soon and continues to work with her mentors to further strengthen the business.

Marcela and her family take part in the business together with joy: “We are planning on expanding the kitchen and going to the doctor with the next cash transfer. We’ve gotten some school supplies for my granddaughter.”

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We are happy here and calm. We can leave our ingredients outside of the house and nothing will happen. We are safe.

Marcela, Ecuador