The seed of CadaVida Foundation was first planted in 2011, when I was living in Beijing, China, but came home to Medellin for a visit. Listening to news on the radio, I heard a live interview with a family whose father was in jail in China. The wife spoke about how difficult their life was now that their main provider was in prison, and how powerless she felt not being able to help her husband or communicate with him. I was very affected by her story, and remembered how my own grandmother used to volunteer to help prisoners in her little town. I felt it was time for me to follow in her footsteps, and decided I wanted to help Colombian prisoners when I returned to China.
Back in Beijing, I organized fundraisers to buy clothes for the prisoners and collect books to send to them. Families in Colombia started to connect with me and I become their “Western Union”—they sent letters, photographs, gifts, and money, and I passed these on to the prisoners. However, talking with the families showed me that an even bigger problem was back in Colombia, where so many wives were now alone without a way to support their families. I spoke with women whose husbands were in prison, but also with women whose husbands had abandoned their families or passed away. These women wanted to provide a better life for their families, but weren’t sure how they would manage to do so. I realized then that if I really wanted to help, my place was not in China, but back home in Colombia.
The more I thought about this idea of helping disadvantaged Colombian women, the more I wanted to learn about social programs and community development. 2013 was the year I transitioned from being a Mechanical Engineer to becoming a social entrepreneur. I started to read books, connect with people in this field, explore social programs around the world and learn about NGOs and social work. I attended various forums and enrolled in the THNK School of Creative Leadership, expanding my own knowledge and skills until 2014, when I felt ready to jump in. I moved back to Colombia, and despite some culture shock and the difficulty of being far away from my husband, I started to work alone in Medellin pursuing my dream.
And why am I so passionate about women? Because I grew up in a family where my mother was strong and intelligent, with two majors, but she was not allowed to work. My very macho father expected her to stay at home and take care of the children. If my mother needed to buy or do something, she had to ask my father for money and permission. I did not like this inequality, and promised myself that I would not need to depend on anyone else for money. One of the reasons I decided to leave Colombia was to look for my own freedom without feeling constrained by societal expectations of what a women can do. I believed then—and now—that all women deserve to take care of their own decisions and have opportunities to grow.
I was eventually able to move to Europe, study foreign languages, and work all over the world. I achieved this, not through financial means, but through determination and bravery. From my own experience, I know that the most important thing you need to realize your dreams is a belief in yourself and your passions. Now, I want to share this idea with other Colombian women and give them the opportunity and support to see that anything is possible.
When a woman is empowered, she can take care of her children and make the best decisions to improve her family’s life. Financial stability allows a woman to buy quality food, offer her children better educational options, and be independent of others. Stability allows a woman to make her own decisions and realize what she is capable of. CadaVida Foundation is built on the belief that each life is important, and that stronger women lead to stronger families, and stronger communities as a whole.