An opportunity that opened doors


Young woman smiling

Lisangel Barrios Castellanos remembers her college days fondly. In the city of Valencia, Venezuela, she worked during the day as a bookkeeper for a company dedicated to importing veterinary products. In the evenings, the 24-year-old studied math and finance to obtain her undergraduate degree.

Though her everlasting dream was to become an accountant,¬†Lisangel¬†dropped out of school in seventh semester¬†to find work outside the country. Drop out rates are high in¬†Venezuela¬†as¬†many children and youth make the decision to leave‚ÄĮthe country¬†in order to¬†work and provide financial support to their aging parents and family.

After moving to Cali, Colombia, she worked in a shoe store and¬†an¬†internet caf√©‚ÄĒboth¬†unstable jobs that did not guarantee social security¬†or¬†minimum wage.

‚ÄúBeing able to use the computers and learn things was an advantage of working at the internet caf√©. But sometimes my shifts were extended,¬†and the business owner did not pay me for the additional work hours,‚Ä̬†says¬†Lisangel.

A client of the internet café noticed her precarious working conditions. They helped Lisangel enrol in Cuso International’s employability project. Between August 2019 and January 2020, the initiative linked 61 Venezuelan migrants to formal employment opportunities in Colombia, all of whom continue to work with their employers.

‚ÄúBesides opening the door to the formal labour market, the initiative taught me about customer service and how to adjust to the local work environment. I think this has made a big difference in my performance as a call center agent at¬†Coomeva‚Äôs¬†Shared Services Unit,‚ÄĚ‚ÄĮsays¬†Lisangel.

The employability project provides both technical and soft skills training. It includes workshops on socio-occupational integration and on-the-job follow-up support. The initiative also assists beneficiaries with psychosocial support sessions to help them overcome labour barriers.

Currently, Lisangel feels relieved about spending her days in an office, just like she did in Venezuela. She sends remittances to her aunt and grandmother in Valencia and is the economical provider of her household, which now includes her brother, his wife and their two children.

Despite not being able to fulfill her dream of becoming an accountant in Venezuela, Lisangel has not lost hope.

‚ÄúCoomeva¬†gives us all the opportunity of growing, no matter where¬†we¬†are from,‚ÄĚ‚ÄĮshe¬†says. Given that the company has a strong educational program for employees, her next goal is to be awarded a scholarship to earn her degree in accounting.