In 2016, I was zipping across Lima, Peru in brightly-colored mototaxis, visiting various savings groups as part of a microfinance project I was serving with. Under the same gray skies, thousands of Venezuelan refugees were seeking new beginnings in their new home country. Soon, there was a visible difference. They stood on street corners selling arepas. In crowds, you could spot their yellow, red, and blue clothing harkening to the Venezuelan flag. My own Peruvian host mom had family arrive from Venezuela, and they lived with us for a time. I babysat their toddlers, baked cookies with their teenagers, and they joined our weekly savings group.
As they told us about watching their hard-earned savings dwindle to almost nothing because of the hyperinflation in Venezuela, I admired their resilient spirit to start saving again, even just 1 sol at a time. They told us about how first they stopped eating meat, and then stopped eating dinner. When they couldn’t get baby diapers and medicine anymore, they started planning their move.
Just last year, I had the opportunity to return to Lima with Food for the Hungry (FH). During that visit, I spoke with many Venezuelan refugees that had just arrived and were being supported by a local church. In fact, the refugees were living at the very church. A few families recounted their journeys by bus from their hometowns in Caracas. They spoke of difficulties getting work visas or traveling two hours one way just to work a minimum-wage job. Many who were previously doctors and accountants now took jobs as maids and security guards–whatever they could find.
What had pushed these individuals to make the brave, 2,655 mile-long journey from Venezuela?
Visiting a group of Venezuelan refugees that FH Peru is supporting with essential supplies.
The Venezuelan Refugee Crisis
Since 2015, over four million Venezuelan refugee and migrants have left their country. While Venezuela used to be an oil-rich nation, hyperinflation and political corruption pushed a once-prosperous country to the verge of economic collapse. Hyperinflation reached 274% in 2016 and went all the way up to 130,060% in 2018.
Having received over 850,000 Venezuelans since 2017, Peru is second only to Colombia for receiving Venezuelans seeking refuge. For many Venezuelan refugees, the transition to life in Peru has been difficult. Because of the influx of refugees, many faced discrimination and hardship. Even in their new host country, they have trouble finding work, enrolling children in school, and accessing healthcare.
To cope, some families have reduced the number of meals they eat. Others have decided to live together with two or three other families in small rented rooms around the outskirts of the city. Unable to find regular employment, many sell food and other goods on the street, barely scraping together enough to live–not to mention sending back money to family still in Venezuela. Due to these hardships, many refugees in Peru have experienced significant emotional and psychological challenges.
Recently, Food for the Hungry’s relief team worked with FH Peru to implement a six-month project partnering with local churches. As many Venezuelan refugees have come through their doors, these churches have been trying to serve the South American neighbors in their midst.
“And you are to love those who are foreigners.” –Deuteronomy 10:19
FH’s Response: Loving Our Venezuelan Neighbors
To respond to the influx of refugees who flooded over Peru’s borders, FH began working with nine local churches. The project started with psychosocial support groups. These spaces became a really important safe place where Venezuelan refugees could process through their myriad emotions with their migration experience. Taking into account their critical and highly-vulnerable condition, attendance across all six churches was high. In fact, over 90% of registered refugees attended the meetings. FH also hosted sessions that helped participants set short, medium, and long-term personal goals. Together, refugees outlined objectives to guide their decisions related to their current immigration status and situation–whether that was adapting and integrating in Peru, or deciding to return to Venezuela one day.
In addition, FH provided financial support to meet the basic needs of 154 individuals; about 40 vulnerable refugee families. By partnering with a local nonprofit organization, Paz y Esperanza, FH was also able to provide legal guidance and orientation. These legal services are highly-coveted and otherwise expensive, helping refugees navigate processes to legal residency, work permits, and access to education and healthcare.
New Beginnings: Carlos José’s Humble Start
Carlos José received psycho-emotional support from FH Peru that grew him closer to his family and church.
Carlos José is one of the many Venezuelan refugees who came to Peru alone at the end of 2017. At the time, he had to leave behind his wife Angelica and his 3-year-old daughter.
When he first arrived, Carlos made ends meet by selling sweets and candies on buses and on the street. He also worked on different maintenance projects in people’s homes. Over time with the money he had saved, he was able to bring his wife from Venezuela to Peru. They settled down in the community of Villa Maria del Triunfo, and in 2019, they had their second daughter. Carlos’ second daughter became a source of strength that helped him grow his faith in Christ during this time of adjustment. He started attending a local church and found out about FH in the process. Soon, he began participating in the counseling workshops that FH Peru was hosting in the church, addressing Venezuelan refugees’ psycho-emotional needs.
Carlos says that these talks have allowed him to emotionally process and bond with his family. He’s also built stronger social networks with his Peruvian brothers in the church. Now, his current job as an electrician and working on gas appliances is more stable. He always has clients–and Carlos has become known in the area for his good work and testimony. He even does some maintenance work at his church!
Carlos and his wife thank God for allowing them to find a good community in their new home country. Just recently, Carlos and wife were able to obtain legal resident in Peru! As a result, this has opened many doors for finding work and being able to access different rights within Peru. Praise God!
To support FH’s ongoing work with Peruvian churches and their outreach to Venezuelan refugees, donate a refugee kit today!
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