Carmen hopes to inspire other women through her work.

She and her daughter fled violence in Colombia.

Carme Perea, 41 years old: “I was born in Buenaventura, Colombia. Right now, I live in Ecuador. I make shoes for women. I left my country because of the violence there. I had to flee after they killed my brother. It was too dangerous. I couldn’t have my daughters raised in such a violent place.

I came to Ecuador 10 years ago. I got involved with the refugee integration campaign here and I became the spokeswoman for #SmileWeAreIntegrating. Because of my collaboration with them, I met Ile Miranda, a famous Ecuadorian shoe designer. Together, we created a gladiator sandal, branded ‘She loved me’ by Ile. The name represents the struggle of the everyday woman who wants to improve her life. We believe that if we love ourselves and believe in ourselves, we can improve not only our lives, but the lives of our children.”

“I have been warmly welcomed by the people of Ecuador, as well as by the Government. It has been a good experience for my small family in terms of development and opportunities.”

Carmen believes that her gladiator shoes are a symbol of the daily struggle of women, representing style and courage. Carmen enjoys sewing the pieces together to make them. The sandals are the product of her collaboration with Ecuadorian shoe designer Ile Miranda.

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Colombian refugee Carmen hand makes each gladiator sandal in her shoe workshop, while her youngest daughter watches.

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Colombian refugee Carmen spends time with her daughters when she’s not in her workshop creating sandals.

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Colombian refugee Carmen's youngest daughter plays amongst the sandal straps in her mother’s workshop.


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Carmen, a Colombian refugee, believes that her work will help to inspire other refugee women to persevere. Carmen fled Buenaventura, Colombia, after her brother was killed. She wanted to raise her daughters in a safe place.

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Colombian refugee Carmen hand-crafts each pair of gladiator sandals in her workshop, often working late into the night. She hopes to inspire other women through her work.

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Colombian refugee Carmen hand-crafts each pair of gladiator sandals in her workshop. Her youngest daughter keeps her company.

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Ecuador. Colombian refugee Carmen's brand on her signature gladiator sandals.

Carmen Perea escaped to Ecuador in 2006 after the murder of her brother. This tragic event drove her to flee her native city of Buenaventura in the midst of armed violence. Colombia has the second highest number of internally displaced persons in the world – an estimated 6.5 million people – after Syria.

Buenaventura has suffered from violence and conflict for over five decades. This industrial port city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to fighting among illegal armed groups. These groups often target women and resort to torture, rape and revenge killings to exert control. Some 200,000 refugees from Colombia have arrived in Ecuador since 2000.

Through her tireless work to integrate into Ecuadorian society, Carmen managed to start a small business making footwear for women.

Written by Sonia Aguilar

Show your solidarity with refugees like Carmen by standing #WithRefugees today.

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Colombia’s five-decade armed conflict has produced the world’s second largest internal displacement situation as of today, after Syria. Approximately, 6.7 million people are internally displaced – around 13 per cent of the entire population. And 360,000 officially recognized refugees have fled abroad, most to Ecuador – which hosts the largest number of refugees in Latin America.

In Ecuador, UNHCR is involved in a Comprehensive Solutions Initiative which has helped Colombian refugees and asylum-seekers enjoy their rights to health, education, employment and housing, and provided them with legal support and advice.

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