Photo: UNOPS / John Rae

Escaping poverty through the kitchen

In Denmark, people still joke about an old commercial slogan that claims everybody is ‘entitled to an awesome kitchen’. But in Colombia, they are taking this idea more seriously.


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Region: Latin America

As part of Colombia’s action plan to end extreme poverty, the government is now rebuilding and upgrading the homes of 50,000 poor families across the country. The project helps families upgrade their homes in vareious ways, including bathroom and kitchen upgrades. But in a country where nearly half of the population survives on an income of less than 1.25 dollars a day, the dream of having an awesome kitchen is rarely about soft mood lighting and a selection of fine wines. Instead, it’s all about basic health and opportunities in life.

A cleaner catch of the day

An example of this is the family of Mari Luz Otero Pérez, who live in the town of Luruaco in northern Colombia. The family is poor and most family members work in shifts around the clock as fishermen. The small family business sells the daily day to local customers, and recently business has been improving, thanks to the family getting a kitchen upgrade as part of the Colombian improvement project.

Foto: UNUPS / John Rae

The family works as fishermen around the clock. Photo: UNOPS / John Rae

“Now, people like to buy food from me because they know it has been prepared in a clean environment. Before, cockroaches, mice and geckos would walk on the food, dust would fall from the mud walls, everything was very dirty,” says Mari Luz, who is determined to keep her new kitchen neat and tidy.

Her family was one of those who got a visit from UNOPS, the United Nation’s operational office, which was given part of the task of upgrading the 50,000 homes. Mari Luz’ old mud-built kitchen was replaced by a new one made from proper bricks. The fireplace has been replaced by a gas stove that doesn’t emit harmful smoke, and area around the kitchen sink has been given tiles that are easy to clean. The family now collects clean rain water in a tank, instead of using water from the lake. This benefits both the health of the family and their customers in the kitchen.

Four weeks of change

Throughout Colombia, the same transformation is taking place. The Colombian government is actively seeking out poor families who have a special need for a better home. Each family chosen is given a construction budget of about 3000 dollars, and an engineer and a social worker help the family decide how to spend the money. For example, the family can opt for a better kitchen, a bathroom, or a new roof or floor. Once the plan is decided, it takes about four weeks to complete the upgrades.

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