“Che-P”, presumably a nickname inspired by Che Guevara, sells artisan jewelry on a street corner a block from the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota. Here in the shadow of the federal government buildings, he tells me about his childhood on the streets. “I never read a book until I was 13 years old,” he says, “and then I learned to read with communist literature in the streets.”
In that era of Colombia, anarchy was as addicting as drugs and alcohol, and he spent years trapped in the cycle. Then, he says, he just decided “I needed to be myself” and left it all behind. Now, clean for many years, he is the father of three pre-teens and husband to another artisan.
As an artisan, he participates in entrepreneurship workshops sponsored by the government, but says the workshop results fall into the same cycle as everywhere: promises, promises, promises, and then nothing. His solution? When an organization hosts a workshop to help artisans improve their craft and boost sales, half of the proceeds of their products should go back to the artisans. Otherwise, it’s a cycle of promised help, a few incomplete workshops and then eventual exploitation. What else would help? “English!” he exclaims, with bright eyes.