|A basket made by an indigenous Colombian refugee living in the Darien Gap. (Christian Fuchs - Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)|
|This alliance creates a direct link between local food production in the countryside and the reality of urban refugees searching for jobs. Through these two organizations, the needs of the countryside and the urban population align. Thanks to the supply of rural products, urban refuges can take the necessary steps to construct a Fair Trade store and sell products at a good price and without speculation.|
(Panama City) June 14, 2013 — Refugees tend to live in marginalized zones. The social exclusion of which they are victims comes from the dynamics of the capitalist system, the economic model that is a part of, and many times becomes the cause of, their exodus.
Refugees, in spite of the institutional obstacles and discrimination that they suffer, show resilience and a capacity to adapt through the force of their determination, which helps them to establish their businesses and survive in this system.
These contradictions show the challenges that arise when we try to develop new economic alternatives. JRS Panama believes that refugees can participate in an alternative world more easily than a world governed by the market economy; creating the alternative of fair trade could generate new possibilities of survival that are more viable and better integrated into the lives of people in precarious situations.
Fair trade networks center on transparent and supportive coordination between the field and the city, with the purpose of promoting a healthy diet for all people in both areas. JRS Panama and the Fair Trade Foundation, which is directed by Monsignor Carlos María Ariz, emeritus bishop of Darién, Colón and Kuna Yala, joined to promote these supportive networks in Panama.
This alliance creates a direct link between local food production in the countryside and the reality of urban refugees searching for jobs. Through these two organizations, the needs of the countryside and the urban population align. Thanks to the supply of rural products, urban refuges can take the necessary steps to construct a Fair Trade store and sell products at a good price and without speculation.
This brokerage can be a determining factor for families to become economically self-sufficient, generating a source of steady income. But these initiatives would not have been concretely developed if JRS Panama and the Fair Trade Network had not engaged in every link of the chain, organizing training workshops and supplying the refugees with high-quality rural products. This help brings the additional advantage of strengthening food sovereignty in rural areas and the region as a whole.
In this way, JRS Panama and the Fair Trade Network propose a new focus for humanitarian assistance programs. In effect, we have come into a new logic, one that breaks the cycle of mere handouts and, together with the refugees, develops new commercial alternatives. This program values a true exchange, not just giving money to a person in need.
“It isn’t the same to give humanitarian assistance through a food stamp that is spent at a large supermarket than to spend it on a bag of basic food that comes from farmworkers’ organizations,” says Ana Lorena Alfaro, director of JRS Panama.
By promoting this type of program, JRS hopes to change humanitarian aid into a catalyst that bolsters self-sufficiency.
By Salomé Linglet and Ana Lorena Alfaro of JRS Panama