Ecuador hosts the largest recognized refugee population in the region due to the large numbers of Colombians fleeing violence. WFP works with the governments of Ecuador and Colombia to provide food assistance to these people living along the border. Recently WFP staff working in Colombia met with WFP staff in Ecuador to exchange experiences on how to improve food and nutrition security to help displaced people and refugees rebuild their lives.
QUITO – Andres Mosquera, Karen Maldonado and Edgar Colmenares have three things in common: they are from Colombia, they want peace for their country and they work for the World Food Programme (WFP). Karen and Edgar are based in WFP’s country office in Bogota whereas Andres is the head of the WFP Sub-Office in Pasto, Colombia, which is the closest WFP office to the border with Ecuador. A few weeks ago, they crossed the border to meet WFP colleagues in Imbabura, located in northern Ecuador, to visit field projects and exchange their experiences in providing food assistance to Colombian refugees and Ecuadorian host communities.
During their visit, the group met Josefina (protected name), a young Colombian who receives WFP’s support in a shelter for women who have suffered from gender-based violence. She told her story: Back in Colombia, her father owed money to an illegal armed group. One day they stormed into Josefina’s home, killed her father and raped her. She was 15 years old.
Food Rations and e-Vouchers
Through WFP’s assistance, Josefina currently receives food rations at the shelter. Once she leaves the shelter, Josefina will start receiving a WFP electronic voucher, so every month she will be able to buy fruits, vegetables, meat, yogurt and other food items at a local store. Ecuadorian smallholder farmers, especially women, provide fresh food products to the local store.
As part of the assistance to help Josefina rebuild her life, she is attending a monthly nutrition education session organized by WFP and local government partners. The Provincial Government of Imbabura is also providing psycho-social support to Josefina. Besides Colombian refugees, Ecuadorian vulnerable populations receive the same kind of assistance.
Linking Local Production and Dietary Diversity
The use of electronic vouchers linking local production helps to improve the dietary diversity of Colombian refugees and vulnerable Ecuadorians. The WFP Colombian team also visited Ecuadorian small-holder farmers and their sales point. They saw how local production supports school lunches organized with the local government.
Other good practices shared by the WFP staff in Ecuador included:
--Integrated social services offered to project participants by partners in WFP premises;
--An Electronic Transfer and Tracking System that was locally developed by WFP in Ecuador to manage electronic cards;
--Women’s participation in efforts linking adaptation to climate change and food security, and
--Cost sharing with local governments.
Andres and his colleagues from WFP in Colombia also visited the local store at Carchi where refugees access local products. They talked to project participants and met with the local government team.
Learning from good practices was a two-way experience: Andrés presented Colombia’s experience in public policy work, supporting national government priorities to improve the food security of families living in extreme poverty.
WFP teams in Ecuador and Colombia learned from each other’s experiences, showing that innovative ways to support food and nutrition security do not need to stop at country borders. Edgar, who works in the WFP Finance Unit in Bogota, was excited to see firsthand the impact of WFP’s work among refugees. From his workstation in Bogota, he promised to keep working every day to help his country and Ecuador ease the plight of refugees. “Let’s work together with governments and other humanitarian agencies to achieve the lasting peace we all want. Let’s help these refugees and their families recover their livelihoods to live with dignity,” he said.