TUMACO, Colombia – Every day, 145 women, most of them victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, efficiently clean thousands of Pacific white shrimp as partners in an initiative helping to rebuild the social fabric in Tumaco, one of the regions hardest hit by decades of violence.
This is an alliance between the Tumako Fish company and the Association of Women Seeds of Peace (Asmudepaz) to improve the quality of life in this depressed part of southwestern Nariño province via social inclusion efforts.
Tumaco, a city of some 200,000, given its strategic location as a Pacific port near the border with Ecuador, is a territory coveted by different illegal armed groups ranging from guerrillas to drug traffickers, and the violence perpetrated by them has aggravated the situation of a large portion of the population, who live in absolute poverty.
“I think that the majority are displaced women who come from other places and, because of the violence, have settled here in Tumaco, and ultimately this is the main work that they do,” Ivani Plaza, one of the Asmudepaz leaders, told EFE while she expertly cleaned one shrimp after another.
Plaza, like the vast majority of women participating in this work, is over age 45 because one of the aims of the program is to provide jobs for people who, because of their age, are out of the labor market, Tumako Fish manager Luis Alberto Rosas said.
“I’m a female head of household. I have three kids. Each day I get up for them and work for them, to get by and so that they can have a better situation than we were able to have,” Plaza said, going on to describe how her family fled their home village to get away from paramilitary and guerrilla violence.
Plaza and her fellow workers can earn a living, thanks to the support the Tumako Fish company gets from the Colombia Responde program with USAID financing, and the company doesn’t consider them “workers” but rather “partners and clients” who receive 5 percent of the value of the company’s sales and up to 30 percent of the net profits.
“Our aim is to create jobs ... and support peace, to be the creators of the seed of peace that we need,” said Rosas, who sells all his production on the Colombian market but dreams of exporting if the government will give him a hand in doing so.
Because of the backwardness, poverty and violence in Tumaco, Rosas said that the region is lagging behind the rest of Colombia given that it’s “not the same to do business in Bogota, Cali or Medellin as it is in Tumaco.”
Because of the contribution Tumako Fish is making to the local economy and to rebuilding the social fabric, Rosas said he felt the government should support the transformation and investment in Tumaco and in the country’s Pacific zone in general, one of Colombia’s most deficient regions.
“The government can’t be deaf to this,” he said, given that areas like Tumaco are the very zones where the success of the post-conflict period – after the peace pact between the government and the FARC guerrillas – is in play.