We continue our look at transformation through the vehicle of Opportunity International’s concept of “deep involvement” microfinance with the story of a remarkable woman entrepreneur in Bogota, Colombia, Carmen Oquendo. She and her husband started a small company 30 years ago that manufactures aluminum pots. We visited with her in January of 2013 as part of our 10 person insight trip to Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia where we saw how microfinance and loving relationships can transform the lives of the working poor.
Carmen Cecilia Oquendo and her husband Jael Betancourt own and operate Alucol, a small aluminum pots manufacturing operation located in a very dangerous part of Bogota, on a street that the police call “the street of death.” Carmen goes out of her way to hire and train people who otherwise might not qualify for a job. She and her husband are long time individual loan clients of Opportunity with a current loan of $15,000.
Carmen and her husband Jael
The rather depressing plant exterior in a dangerous residential neighborhood belies the hub of activity inside
Carmen and Jael started their business 30 years ago and grew to employ 30 workers from the community. 15 years ago their daughter contracted cancer and she fought valiantly for 9 years before succumbing to the disease. Her treatments cost the family dearly, both psychologically and financially, to the point that they had to drastically scale back their operations. At that point Carmen and Jael were facing the specter of $55,000 of debt. When they were ready to expand again they went to Opportunity International for a small trust bank loan of $65 which for them was, in Carmen’s words, the “fresh air” they needed to make a new start. They went through 3 loan cycles, increasing their loan each time to their current individual loan amount of $15,000. The company is profitable again and now provides work for 12 disadvantaged people from their community. Amongst their current employ is a long term worker who “made a mistake” and is now a prisoner on house arrest but is able to work, eat and sleep at the plant while serving his sentence.
Carmen does all the administration – no computers in this 30 year old operation but she assures us that her two children are on Facebook
In October 2012 Carmen was given the great honor of being chosen to speak at the Grand Opening of the new Colombia Opportunity International Bank. Brian Olarte, the Marketing and Transformation officer with the Opportunity International Bank, says that Carmen was chosen “because her story is very inspirational and we believe that cases like these are the reason why we are in Colombia; helping people who have the will, ability and just need a little push to work their way out of poverty.”
Carmen attributes her success to her “hard work, love of God and for God [and the people she helps by giving them work]. Most of all, my husband’s craftsmanship.” She is a true leader of transformation.
one of the 30 workers begins to form the container utilizing the high speed lathe and a shaping tool
Finishing touches on the container take just a few seconds with Jael on the lathe – he designed and built all of the machinery
For more information about Opportunity International and microfinance See http://opportunityinternational.ca/