Supporting Misak Community Initiatives

The Misak indigenous community, located in the highest mountains of the Cauca department, has been severely affected by the Colombian armed conflict due to the historical presence of the FARC guerrilla in the region. Here Wájaro is:

1) Working with a regional cooperative to launch new economic initiatives that benefit the local population.

2) Partnering with other international NGOs with the aim of strengthening the internal capacity of a regional cooperative.

3) Helping to create greater economic opportunities for a local women’s artisan association.

4) Supporting leadership development initiatives for youth.

Continue on to read more about each initiative…

Located in the Western Andean mountain range that runs through the department of Cauca, the Misak indigenous community resides in what is known as the Guambia reservation, a mountainous and chilly region with a wonderful landscape full of coffee, cassava, potatoes, beans, and cabbage crops.

Though rich in culture and organization, the broader Misak community has been significantly affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. Among many challenges, local Misak leaders emphasize the lack of economic and academic opportunities for youth due to the historical presence of ​​the FARC guerrillas in the region. In order to advance economically or academically, Misak youth are forced to leave their reservation for urban centers. The unfortunate result has been a transient generation of Misak youth, increasingly ashamed of their indigenous identity, and struggling with the vices of the city.

The historic truce signed between the Colombian government and the FARC in November of last year has led to a decreasing presence of the armed group in Guambia. As a result, new development initiatives have begun bubbling up in different communities throughout the region.

One of those communities, is the village of Tranal. Tranal has a population of roughly 1000 people and borders the western limits of the Misak territory. A peculiar characteristic of Tranal is that it is largely protestant and boasts leadership that envisions their churches assuming a protagonist role in the region. These same leaders acknowledge that the evangelical church has largely been absent from social, economic and political processes in Guambia. Their desire is to change that.

Through a program that seeks to increase economic development, collective organization and educational opportunities in Guambia, the Tranal community leadership in partnership with Wájaro have begun implementing four initiatives.

The following points explains how Wájaro is supporting the Misak community:
Working with a regional coooperative to launch new economic initiatives that benefit the local population.

Confronted by the lack of economic opportunities for local youth, in 2016, a group of leaders from the community of Tranal started an informal credit union with the aim of teaching and helping young people to save for their future. For all intents and purposes, the program has been very successful, and now serves as impetus for this same group of Tranal leaders to dream bigger about creating economic opportunities for Misak youth and others.

Today this group is working hard to develop a producers cooperative. Currently the main activity of the cooperative has been the opening of a store where which members are able to purchase different household products and foodstuffs at wholesale price. The aim of the cooperative is to become an incubator for income generation and employment.

The cooperative is especially interested getting involved in two emerging local industries.

The first is positioning itself as an input provider in the supply chain for the local trout industry. The production of trout is a primary economic activity in the region. There are multiple producers associations and production facilities dispersed throughout the region. The main production inputs besides water and labor, are fish food and fingerlings. Both are imported from the outside. Fish eggs, which eventually become fingerlings, are imported from Canada. Fish food is trucked in from factories located in Cali. The cooperative, with help from Wájaro, is working to become a local producer, distributer and vender of both inputs.

The second is becoming a multi-faceted service provider in the community-based tourism industry. The village of Tranal is one of six communities that comprise the Tranal micro-region. Due to the changing dynamics of Colombia’s armed conflict, the region has become safer and more accessible. The wealth of natural springs and pristine forests, combined with diverse flora and fauna due to drastic variations of altitude make the Tranal region a charming destination for backpackers interested in experiencing some of Colombia’s most picturesque highlands areas.

With support from Wájaro, the cooperative is working to develop the local infrastructure and capacity necessary to host and attend to tourists. They envision Misak youth working and earning income by participating in a local, community-based tourism industry.

Partnering with other international NGOs with the aim of strengthening the internal capacity of a regional cooperative.

For centuries people have devised ways and means of coping with life’s adversities. Often the problems confronting an individual are too large for them to overcome on their own. However, when individuals decide to work together and put the shared interests of a group over their own, new possibilities emerge. The producers cooperative that leaders from the community of Tranal have begun to develop is an example of this kind of collective undertaking that seeks to pool together local resources in order to overcome common challenges.

Nevertheless, most humanitarian organizations shy away from the kind of organizational process because it is hard and messy. As leaders from Tranal cite, multiple attempts to work collectively on entrepreneurial activities have failed – mostly due to poor adminstration and financial management.

For this reason, Wájaro in partnership with Coopermundo, an international NGO that specializes in cooperative development, has begun providing support to the regional Tranal producers cooperative with the aim of developing its technical, adminstrative and financial capacity.

Helping to create greater economic opportunities for a local women’s artisan association.

Wajáro has begun working with a multigenerational group of roughly 30 Misak women to explore sustainable entrepreneurial activities that center on their skills as artisans. The group of women have created a legal business and call themselves Artes Tranara. Wájaro seeks to connect the group to outside markets and to ensure that throughout the process the women are building not only their market base, but also their knowledge of business, management, quality control, and finances.

Supporting leadership development initiatives for youth.

Wájaro, in partnership with the Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Justice Center (CREAS), has begun implementing a leadership development program with Misak youth from the Tranal micro-region. The centerpiece of the initiative is a virtual educational program called “Emprendemos Paz”. In the program, youth leaders reflect as a group on a range of topics framed within a theological-biblical backdrop in order to better understand how macro-issues connect to their local context and faith. Participants are provided with the practical tools and conceptual framework necessary to develop and carry out local initiatves that seek to foment entrepreneurial possibilities and greater citizen participation.