She couldn’t walk but kept moving forward

How a rural mother from Colombia fought back against a debilitating disease to become a food hero

After years of struggling with Guillain Barre syndrome and undergoing surgeries and physical therapy, Ana Yesmid recovered her speech and most of her ability to walk. She turned the experience into a campaign to help others with disabilities get access to resources to help them make a living. ©FAO/Ángela Aya


Ana Yesmid Saldarriaga Roso was born into a rural family in Guamal, just south of Colombia's capital Bogotá. As a mother of four, she used to work various jobs, including as a housekeeper, a private security guard and a seller of tamales, the traditional Mesoamerican dish.

One morning, everything changed.

At the age of 42, Ana Yesmid woke up to find herself struggling to speak or move from her bed. She would go on to spend the next five years in various hospitals, relying on her dedicated husband to bathe and get dressed. Doctors diagnosed her as suffering from Guillain Barré syndrome, a rare disorder whereby the body's immune system attacks its nerves, sometimes leading to total paralysis.

While confined to a wheelchair, she repeatedly told herself that one day, she’d walk again. She underwent many surgeries, learned to use crutches and faithfully completed physical therapy and finally, one and a half years later, was able to start walking again with the help of a cane. She also eventually fully recovered her speech.

It was then that she came across Breaking Barriers with Love Bonds (Asociación Rompiendo Barreras Con Lazos de Amor - ASROBLAM), an organization that assists people with disabilities. The association helped her and its 29 other members produce ecological bags and desserts to sell for a living. Ana Yesmid soon became ASROBLAM's representative, dealing with the government.

Right from the beginning, Ana Yesmid argued that the organization should help others with disabilities gain livelihoods. In Colombia, people with disabilities still face a lot of discrimination in finding employment.

"I said this must be made bigger: We have to improve people's quality of life, so that we are able to demonstrate to others in a similar condition that, yes, you can move on," she said.

Ana Yesmid got involved with an organization that helps improve the livelihoods of people with disabilities. An FAO project provided more support to the organization, offering members technical assistance in agriculture and livestock farming. Left/top: ©FAO/Ángela Aya. Right/bottom: ©FAO/ Juan Diego Castillo

ASROBLAM is part of the Food Supply Network of Meta (Red de Abastecimiento de Alimentos del Meta), an initiative that seeks to promote inclusive supply models for small- and medium-sized producers in the Meta department of central Colombia.

In early 2019, more support came to the members of ASROBLAM and the Food Supply Network of Meta as a result of an FAO project backed by Ecopetrol.

The FAO project, which came with USD 2.3 million of Ecopetrol funding over a three-year period, provided technical assistance in the production of fruits, vegetables, coffee, cocoa, livestock, poultry and fish farming. The project also helped farmers develop business models and production good practices and facilitated the purchase of sowing and harvesting equipment. This allowed Ana Yesmid to learn about selling free-range chicken.

"I began to look for other people with disabilities in other farms and talked to them about the chicken project," Ana Yesmid said.

Thanks to her leadership skills, Ana Yesmid was able to arrange the production of free-range chicken in five villages. With funding from the FAO project, a common shed was created, using materials that comply with good poultry practices.

Through the FAO project, the family farmers started a company to deal with the logistical operations of selling their products, with Ana Yesmid on its board of directors. ©FAO/ Juan Diego Castillo

Soon after the global COVID-19 pandemic struck, causing a surge in the price of animal feed and other production costs. It was then that the FAO project stepped in, delivering seeds and equipment for making alternative feed, thereby reducing costs by up to 40 percent.

The project also helped farming families market their products through the Food Supply Network. Nearly 500 producers in the municipalities of Villavicencio, Acacías, Castilla la Nueva and Guamal are now selling their products without intermediaries. A company, RED S.A.S, was set up to deal with the logistical operations, with Ana Yesmid on its board of directors and speaking as their leader.

"We want you to help people with disabilities in Meta, in Colombia and throughout the world. Give us the opportunity to move forward and improve our quality of life," she said.

She has special words for those mothers "who work 24/7 and do not have the right to sleep, or get sick, or have a day off, because there is no one to take care of the children."

"Don't pity us. We are fighting warriors and we can move forward with your support."

Behind all of our food, there is always someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it. In the run up to World Food Day on October 16, we take the opportunity to thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond - leaving no one behind.

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2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health and well-being, 8. Decent work and economic growth