Tony's inspiring Journey from Migrant to successful local Entrepreneur

Upskilling and Reskilling
In search of a better life, many people in El Salvador venture north, selling everything for an uncertain journey. The story of Tony Joel Solís Sánchez is one of overcoming challenges and determination to forge opportunities in the region. His "American Dream" is now a "Salvadoran Dream", driven by his desire to stay, to grow his business, and to invest in his country.

191 kilometres from El Salvador's capital, in the Department of Morazán, lies the remote municipality of Meanguera. Its origins date back to fugitives from English pirates in the 18th century. Today, 8000 inhabitants live there. This place with a past of welcoming migrants is now a point of departure for many. This exodus is driven by a lack of employment and business opportunities, job instability and the search for a better life. In this context, Tony's story shows that persistence can be life-changing, turning dreams into reality.

An odyssey that some repeat

Like many young people in his village, Tony Joel Solís Sánchez tried hard to find a job and worked for very low wages, even abandoning his studies to ease financial difficulties. 

A lot of people sell their belongings or mortgage everything they have in order to migrate, paying up to USD 17,000 for a journey that is not guaranteed to be successful. So many people embark on this journey – not just once, not twice, but three or more times.

In 2009, motivated in part by a disappointment in love, he set out on his first journey to the United States in search of better opportunities, facing dangers in three attempts to cross the border.

But Tony's journey was not just about going north for a more promising future, it was a journey of determination and constant search that showed how dreams can become reality, despite detention and deportation.  

One destination: the promising north

  1. The first time: "I have a tremendous story. The first time I left, we were abandoned in a milpa [maize plantation] in Villahermosa, Mexico. They [migrant smugglers] just left us there and never picked us up again. They assaulted us: they put a gun to my neck. We were lost for a night and a bit... It was terrible, so I went back. The 'coyote' [popular name for people who cross migrants at the border] told me: 'we are not going to return even 1 USD to your mother', even though under a debt of $10'000, I was promised three trips on account."
  2. A second attempt: "The second time, the coyote told me, 'I know another way, today you are going to enter" and they threw me through the desert. It was terrible! I got very dehydrated because when we were crossing to the other side [the United States] we ran out of water." 
    After six months in detention, Tony volunteered at the detention centre for a wage of USD 1 a day to cook and clean floors. Then, he was deported to El Salvador.
  3. The third try: "The third time, the coyote told me 'today we're going to take you across the Rio Bravo', and we made it across. I spent two and a half years in the United States." 
    But his destiny kept telling him that this was not the way. After being detained on public transport and finding that he had a previous immigration record, he signed the deportation order himself and returned to El Salvador.

Fostering local businesses as an alternative for migration

His story as a returned migrant entrepreneur highlights that positive change can come from small businesses rooted in local communities, questioning the common association that success is only possible with large enterprises.

After returning to his home country from abroad, Tony faced a challenging reality, as the lack of employment opportunities remained prevalent. In the midst of adversity, however, Tony did not lose hope and channelled his entrepreneurial spirit and forged his way into the world of cooking. Taking the responsibilities as an older brother seriously, he learned to cook from the age of 10 and took care of his younger siblings while his mother worked tirelessly to support the family. This drive led him to envision the economic opportunity to create a food business based on chicken from his mother's farm. He persevered over the years and managed to create Ton Pollo, finally legalising the business in 2012. 

But this story has only just begun.

Tony Joel Solís Sánchez

Certification of skills to boost his business

One day, Tony got a call from a friend who told him about a project that was going to train and certify cooking skills. This project was Gene-Sis de Nuevas Oportunidades (Creating New Opportunities for Returned migrants), through which Swisscontact supports the social and economic reintegration of returned migrants together with the Centre for the Development of Micro and Small Enterprises (CDMYPE) and the National Commission for Micro and Small Enterprises (CONAMYPE).

Tony joined this entrepreneurship training programme, which gave him the tools needed to establish and grow his business. He learned to identify potential customers, calculate costs and expenses, and look for new market opportunities. Over time, he transformed his takeaway business into a successful venture.  

"When I joined this project, I got certified."
Tony Joel Solís Sánchez

Recognition for the skills and experience gained abroad

Getting recognition for the skills acquired abroad is an important step for people who have not had the opportunity to be formally trained. Today, Tony is happy that his business is sustainable.

"I feel that I now have all the tools to further develop my business. What I take away most from participating in the project and the entrepreneurship programme is to identify customers, look for new markets, to deeply understand what we sell and further develop the products, and analyse how profitable we are."
Tony Joel Solís Sánchez

New opportunities for a new path  

True to its name, the project ‘Creating New Opportunities for Returned Migrants’ has been playing a key role in supporting the entrepreneurial development of migrant returnees in El Salvador. Through training, the project strengthens their businesses and provides emotional support to empower the men and women and integrate them back into society.

Today, Ton Pollo employs three local staff and has expanded its menu to meet the demands of its customers. Besides providing an essential service in the area, Tony has also become a role model in his community by getting involved in social work.

“The American Dream” turned into the “Salvadoran Dream”

Tony’s vision is imbued with momentum to stay and expand his business, to invest in his home country and to collaborate with likeminded people with similar goals. His story is a testament to the determination and willingness to overcome obstacles to make an opportunity happen and start self-employment in his region.

Though Tony's account may seem surreal, migration stories are similar in their search for a better life, filled with hope and dreams. 

The reasons that make people leave their entire life behind are not simple and the steps involved in going back and having to face up to a harsh reality are not easy either. In this case, Tony managed to find a new opportunity back home.

The project Gene-Sis de Nuevas Oportunidades is financed by the European Union and implemented by Swisscontact.

El Salvador
Labour market insertion, Upskilling and Reskilling, Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Migration
Gene-Sis: Creating new opportunities for returned migrants
This project addresses one of the most pressing humanitarian crises in Central America. Thousands of migrants are forced every year to return to their home countries. Back in their country, many returning migrants face difficulties: although most returnees have no criminal background, the deportees are perceived as criminals by their fellow citizens and have difficulty integrating into the labour market. At the same time, these practically experienced skilled workers bear great potential as there is a demand for qualified workers in growing economic sectors.