Breaking Cycles of Poverty in Colombia

Women’s March Global recently had the pleasure to interview, Catalina Escobar Restrepo, the founder and president of Juanfe Foundation. Juanfe Foundation is a non-profit organisation that is committed to breaking the poverty cycles of adolescent mothers through the 360 Degree Model, a comprehensive intervention that consists of sexual and reproductive health care, psychological and effective counseling, education, job training, and the inclusion of the young women in the formal labor market.

When the foundation was created in 2001, after the death of Juan Felipe, Escobar's son, alongside Cartagena growing poverty rates during the time, Escobar saw it as imperative to help the thousands of at-risk teenage mothers and children and provide medical attention to a vulnerable population with no or little access to resources.

“The first thing I wanted to do, was to save babies’ lives because I didn’t want any mother to go through a process of grief and pain where I went through.”

Before Juanfe started, Escobar was a volunteer at the Rafael Calvo Maternity Hospital, where she witnessed high rates of preventable infant mortality. She realized that most children that died where from teenage mothers living in poor conditions. After the death of her son Juan Felipe, it inspired her to create an organisation that would help prevent these deaths caused by a lack of economic resources.

I witnessed how a little baby died in my arms because his teen mother of 14 years of age couldn’t raise $20 for his treatment. That money was in my pocket. You come to realize that she couldn’t raise the money, that’s $20. The problem was not the $20, the problem was the system. The problem was the corruption. The problem was that nobody would take this issue or take full responsibility.”

Juanfe offers its beneficiaries access to medical, educational, economic and psychological access that is integral for empowering them. Through its four programs, they break the cycles of poverty by training women to be independent and join the labor force. “The best way to actually break cycles of poverty is by one thing, and it’s called income, self-generated income,” said Escobar.

“And today, we’re [Juanfe Foundation] the first women labor force provider in the whole city. In the past three years, we have injected 1,300 girls in the labor system.”

Cartegena’s teen pregnancy rate since Juanfe started has gone down from 30% to 17%. To date, Juanfe has empowered about 3946 young women living in extreme poverty In Colombia.

“I decided to give up the corporate world and have a true purpose in life, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 17 years.”

To learn more about Juanfe Foundation and their work visit this link.

Catalina Escobar being the founder and CEO of Juanfe Foundation also sits on Women’s March Global’s advisory board. She was recognized as Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 by the World Economic Forum and Schwab Foundation and also won the World of Children Humanitarian Award in 2015.

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Tenzin Kyisarh is the Communications Manager for Women’s March Global.