Escape from Colombia

A family fled violence, now helps start small businesses in South America

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She has a quiet dignity and radiant smile. Just as memorable is Adriana Elisa Parra Fox’s personal history and commitment to other victims of the violence in Colombia.

Her family was uprooted from its home in Colombia more than a decade ago after her American husband, Fred Fox, was caught by a band of local guerrillas and nearly murdered. The family now lives in Davis.

After moving to the university town, Parra Fox, who is Afro-Colombian, developed the groundwork for a microfinancing program with the help of about a dozen Davisites, all Latinas.

The five-year-old program targets women who were driven from their homes by the Colombian paramilitary or guerrillas. Low-interest loans help the displaced in the Pacific Coastal region of Colombia, known as Chocó, to start or expand homegrown businesses—be it selling chickens or sundries.

This Saturday, October 29, the nonprofit women’s bank is holding its fifth annual fundraiser at the Davis Community Church in downtown Davis.

For more than 20 years, Parra Fox and her husband have helped provide educational and other services to struggling Colombians.

Until 2000, they lived in Quibdó, the capital of Chocó. She was a professor of international development at the university in Quibdó. He was an adjunct professor of ecology.

In May 2000, at the height of some of the worst violence in Colombia, Fox was stopped at a road block.

“I knew I was in trouble,” he said.

A group of guerrillas armed with AK-47s and grenades demanded Fox’s identification. He was taken from his vehicle, put into a room and interrogated. A few hours later, the kidnappers called Parra Fox. They threatened to kill her husband if she failed to pay a steep ransom within 48 hours. She was terrified and pleaded for his life, pointing to her husband’s work helping the very people the guerrillas professed to aid.

After verifying Fox’s background, the guerrillas released him.

“The truth saved him,” Parra Fox said. Shortly after his release, Fox secured visas for his family before fleeing the country.

A month later, he was joined in Davis by his wife and two children, then 13 and 15 years old. The three of them spoke no English.

Like many of the forcibly displaced Colombian women she assists, Parra Fox had to start life anew in a strange land. Unlike many of them, her husband is still alive. She also has the benefit of advanced degrees.

Parra Fox met her husband 28 years ago while he was working for a Colombian organization that provided educational and social services to the poverty stricken. Eight years later, Parra Fox along with her husband and some close friends started a similar volunteer-run foundation to improve the lives of those in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Chocó. The primary mission of the organization, FunbiChocó, was educating struggling women. Without education, the only work available to them was grueling toil in the gold mines.

The work of the FunbiChocó, headed by Parra Fox, evolved to help the women access materials needed to launch their own businesses.

One woman decided to sell mattresses stuffed with local grass. Parra Fox was able to get her the necessary cloth. A few other women banded together to open a restaurant. FunbiChocó helped them buy a refrigerator and sell cold drinks.

Colombia has been wracked by violence for more than 50 years. In early 2000, it was the kidnap capital of the world. “It was an industry,” said Fox.

Since its inception, the women’s micro-lending bank has grown considerably, much to Parra Fox’s delight. It started in one neighborhood, and the volunteer-run nonprofit now works in 28 neighborhoods.

The small loans, which carry a 3 percent monthly interest rate, replace the local loan sharks, who charge interest rates of 20 percent or more and demand daily payments. Parra Fox’s bank also focuses on helping the women build networks.