Agripina Perea – Path out of poverty

Colombian activist and restaurant owner Agripina Perea (40) is a woman with a mission. She got a chance to build a better life for herself through a savings programme for women. Since then, she’s been trying to convince as many women as possible that the programme offers a viable path out of poverty.

Thirteen years ago, Agripina Perea landed in Cartagena de India, a tourist town on the Caribbean coast, after she had to flee the violence in her home town. It was hardly a welcoming paradise: ‘It was terrible. I didn’t know anyone; we had to live on the streets, and we were hungry.’

In the end, that experience was her turning point: ‘No matter how terrible it was, in retrospect it was the best thing that happened to me. I realised that if I was going to get ahead, I would have to study, start learning things. I finished school and then took a higher-level administrative course. 

‘One day I heard about the savings programme for women. I arranged to be trained to take part, and I could see even before I was done studying that my self-confidence was increasing: now I could show them what I could do.’

The savings programme was set up by Any Benitez of Fundación Capital, an organisation run by a group of idealistic economists that, through the women, try to incorporate the poor into the formal economic system. They open a bank account for the women and give them an iPad so they can learn to deal with that account, and help them use their savings and micro-credit to set up micro-companies that allow them to climb out of poverty.

Agripina Perea was one of the first micro-entrepreneurs that took part in the programme. She used the money to start a tiny restaurant. ‘I make nutritious meals for low prices, mainly to give the local children good food to eat.’ Perea is also a national spokeswoman for the savings programme. ‘I travel all over Colombia telling people about the project.’

Perea is in direct contact with the highest political echelons in Colombia now. ‘I’ve met with president Santos twice now, to ask him for more resources so we can train more women. He not only said he would, he kept his word too! In part thanks to that contribution, we’ve already been able to train more than 200.000 women.’

But politics is one thing and activism is a different matter altogether, according to Perea: ‘I am and will always be an activist. But you have to put pressure on politicians, make sure they do what they promise. I do see myself as a kind of political leader, but then a politician without a party. I definitely don’t plan to go into formal politics. What I want is to be an ambassador for the women.’

By Cees Zoon