Being a woman in Colombia is not easy. In 2020 alone, 630 women were killed because of their gender. Mothers face violence by their husbands, young women have difficulties finding paid jobs, and access to education and political institutions is more limited if you are female.
However, being a woman in Colombia is also beautiful. Together with the right people, you can engage in a wonderful journey of self-discovery, learn lessons on how to emancipate yourself from sexist culture, and it can be uniquely beautiful to discover the own value, apart from men.
How Proyecto Florecer was founded
That’s what Proyecto Florecer means for the women in Medellín. In the middle of the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, three women, Erin, Mar, and Sheridan, increasingly observed the spread of poverty in the barrios of Medellín. In 2020, Colombia recognized a 269 % rise in the number of people facing severe food insecurity when compared to 2019. The three did not know about the impact they were going to create when they started to look for volunteers providing food to the people in need.
Mar explains: “Proyecto Florecer was initially created to educate young women in areas of leadership, community service, and self-confidence. The pandemic caused us to re-evaluate our mission and how we could best serve our community in the most relevant way based on the new reality facing the population. The pandemic and quarantines impacted women more severely than men because women needed to balance the need to work with the reality that their children weren’t able to go to school. Putting food on the table became even harder, especially for single mothers.”
How a soup kitchen stimulates female empowerment
Within a few months, the soup kitchen grew from a few female volunteers cooking all morning to distribute food, to a greatly organized Non-Profit Organization gaining attention in the US, Europe, and the United Nations.
The main purpose of Proyecto Florecer is to empower the women living in the Medellín communities. Female volunteers help to cook and serve food. In exchange, they get support with workshops, shared knowledge from others as well as help from psychologists and social workers.
The workshops are particularly interesting for women because they learn traits like self-awareness, emotional intelligence. Further, they acquire skills in communication and interpersonal relationships, and valuable leadership and management competencies. The female volunteers are the ones organizing the food kitchen distributing food among the people living in Barrio Antioquia. Hence, they also learn important management and team skills simply doing the volunteering work.
Sharing experiences, emotions, and fears helps to overcome difficult times
Today’s volunteers have various backgrounds. A majority of the women already have children and are raising them without a husband. Many are refugees from Venezuela. All of them have experienced discrimination and gender-based violence throughout their life. This is why the workshops are so important to the women: Discussing the own experiences with others and sharing thoughts, struggles and advice helps each individual to overcome the daily challenges they face.
Katty, one of the volunteers highlights: “I think everyone needs a place like this: A place where you can share your experiences, your fears, and your emotions with the women and learn, that you are not as alone as you thought. Through the Proyecto Florecer, I united myself with others to make the world a little bit better every time.”
Katty has a special story, being a trans woman in Colombia she struggled to find employment for a long time. “Many employers don’t want to hire trans people in Colombia. For a long time, I was not able to contribute to my family’s income, and I felt bad eating food and wasting our resources at home. Since I started with the Proyecto Florecer, I am finally able to bring foods, such as rice, panel, and vegetables to my family, cook for them and feel valuable.”
So, after all, Proyecto Florecer not only helps women to economically empower themselves and gain independence. It gives hope in times when the amount of challenges feels insurmountable. It is easy to be overwhelmed with working, taking care of young children, and constantly fighting for the own rights.
Everybody can get affected by poverty
Carolina, a single mother of four children has seen friends and family suffering from hunger in Venezuela. She decided to leave her home behind in order to enable her children a better future. In Venezuela, she could neither pay for her children’s education nor for essential goods, such as clothes and food.
“Proyecto Florecer was one of the best things that happened to me since I came to Medellín. Coming from Venezuela, I know how fast we find ourselves in situations where we see no way out. It can happen to anyone from one day to another, to not being able to afford even simple things. I am a single mother of four children, which is an impossible challenge to deal with in a country like Venezuela. When I chose to leave the country, arriving here I met amazing people that helped me to set foot in the city. Now I can finally take care of my children as I want to and send them to a good school,” she says with tears in her eyes.
How Proyecto Florecer works
Every 14 days, the group of about 15 women and the founders of Proyecto Florecer meet in el Centro Cultura Culturarte in Barrio Antioquia. Early mornings they cut vegetables and prepare the food. After two hours of workshops, they distribute the food to the locals coming by with meal vouchers.
The women can bring their children and daughters to the gatherings. Many of their daughters listen to the stories of the women. They learn from their mothers how important it is to become self-confident and independent. This way, Proyector Florecer is not just supporting the community of Medellín. It is budding the seeds for a generation of women ready to reign the world.
Spending their whole Saturday volunteering is uniquely fulfilling to the group of women. Each of them agrees that being able to help others in difficult situations is a very important part of their life: “It’s all about giving back what you receive every day,” Carolina concludes.