Colombian baker's turnover rises with help of UNHCR and partners

Making a Difference, 6 September 2010

© UNHCR/L.Dobbs
Freshly Baked: Carlos Quintero pulls some pies out of his small oven in the "Delicias del Valle" bakery.

QUITO, Ecuador, September 6 (UNHCR) The neighbourhood "Delicias del Valle" bakery in Quito has been making piles of dough since owner Carlos Quintero obtained a micro-credit loan with the help of the UN refugee agency.

"I can live from my business. I pay for the rent, food and the children," the 48-year-old refugee told UNHCR visitors to his small shop on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano that looms over the Ecuadorean capital. "I make about US$300 a week. I can save about US$120 to US$150 a week."

The bakery caters mainly to Colombian refugees there are an estimated 40,000 people of concern to UNHCR in Quito, out of some 135,000 nationwide. But about 20 per cent of Quintero's clientele are Ecuadoreans a tribute to his outgoing personality and skills as a baker as well as evidence of the kind of integration that UNHCR promotes for refugees in urban areas.

The exiles can find their home favourites at Delicias del Valle, whose name gives a clue to Quintero's area of origin. He is from Cali, capital of the volatile Valle de Cauca department, which is one of the top three areas of origin for Colombian refugees in Ecuador.

"I specialize in traditional Colombian products, such as buƱuelos [corn and cheese fritter], pandebono [cheese bread], cuajadas, Colombian bread and orange cake," he explained, as food prepared by his wife simmered on a stove. The couple also serve Colombian and Ecuadorean dishes at lunchtime in their narrow shop, supplementing the income from the bakery.

Things did not look so rosy when Quintero first came to Ecuador. "I fled Colombia in June 2004 because I was persecuted and feared for my safety," explained Quintero, who had worked as a baker for 25 years in Cali. "I like Ecuador because it is very quiet and very safe," he added.

The father of three soon set up a small bakery in Quito, but like many other Colombians in Ecuador he encountered some hostility "because I was Colombian and people did not want to buy from me." His business helped him build up good relations with his Ecuadorean neighbours.

Last year, he wanted to expand the bakery. Quintero contacted the UNHCR office in Quito and asked for help. He was referred to the FundaciĆ³n Ambiente y Sociedad (FAS), a local implementing partner of UNHCR, which supports micro-credits as a way of easing the integration of Colombia refugees, especially in urban areas.

The non-governmental organization gave him US$100 worth of equipment and materials and he also received a micro-credit of US$400 from other foundations. The in-kind grant from FAS included components for an oven, which he then assembled himself, saving on costs.

These injections of capital have enabled Quintero to increase his product range and his output, helping to boost business and profit. He has even hired an Ecuadorean to help with some of the extra workload.

Encouraged by success, he is setting his sights higher. "I need more money," said the ambitious entrepreneur. He opened a bank account in January and is applying for a US$1,000 credit from the Maquita Cushunchic Foundation, which uses funds from UNHCR to help small-time traders refugees and Ecuadoreans living in mixed communities.

"I have received very good support [from UNHCR and its partners] and I'm independent. But the most important thing for me now is to receive credit," Quintero explained. He is putting up the equipment and shop as collateral.

Supporting the integration of people like Quintero through grants, micro-credit programmes and training is a key policy for UNHCR. "From the nearly 52,000 recognized refugees to date, you have 60 per cent in urban areas that means mostly local integration as a durable solution," explained Deborah Elizondo, UNHCR's representative in Ecuador. Only a small number are resettled.

Meanwhile, aside from wishing to see his empire continue to grow, success has given Quintero some more personal goals. "I have plans. I want to build a house in this neighbourhood," he said. But despite building a new life, he stills thinks of home. "I miss Cali. I want to go back one day."

By Leo Dobbs in Quito, Ecuador