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  • Gustavo Driau

In Bogotá, a light of hope between migration and COVID-19

Author: Daniel Hernando Rubiano Cruz

Editor: Ana Isabel Mendivelso Gil

I arrived at the Las Cruces area in Bogota on typical a cloudy and rainy in the region; this is a depressed sector in the center of Bogota, where the protagonist of this story awaits us. The house is old, from the Spanish colonial era, and in poor condition. Iranis Higuera greets us in a small battered room; she shows a radiant expression and tells us that she is available to narrate the journey of her trip from Venezuela to Colombia.

-Iranis, could you tell us how you got to Colombia, and what was your life like in Venezuela?

My life in Venezuela was quite calm; we lacked nothing; it was a happy time; my family was a middle class one. I had a happy childhood; those were good times. I married my husband, and I could start a family

- Iranis, then, could you relate what the reason why everything changed in the last years was?

The situation in Venezuela was getting worse and worse. My husband worked in an oil company. The company was the largest in Venezuela and the pride of the nation. In mid-2016, everything began to change. Food prices increased a lot, the company stopped paying his salary to my husband, and the company gradually fell, and bankruptcy became inevitable. Without my husband's income, the situation became unsustainable, and my mother also had health complications.

-Iranis looks out the window; she is nostalgic and thoughtful; finally, she encourages herself to continue talking to me about the situation lived with her mother.

In Venezuela, there was nothing for my family or me, so I made the hardest decision of my life and abandoned everything I ever knew.

-Iranis, if you like to take a break, you are quite tense

-Daniel, this isn't easy. I have so many emotions; I have so many feelings that it is difficult to put it into words.

-Iranis takes a breath and, with a broken voice, continues her story.

-The crossing from Venezuela to Colombia was very hard, the road is terrible, and the conditions in which we had to cross it were appalling. Even so, after a difficult journey, we were able to reach Bogotá, which is a large city with a rather cold climate different from that of my native Venezuela. Here I started working as many other of my compatriots selling coffee on the streets; it was there that I saw the hand of God.

- Iranis, could you tell me about that experience? The face of Iranis lights up as he remembers that moment and says:

One day, a Colombian lady, seeing me in need selling coffee on the street, as a good Samaritan woman, offered to help me and gave me lodging in her home and gave me her support so that I could bring my family from Venezuela. Still, my mother had his health condition worsened.

-Iranis sighs bitterly and tears start to run down her face

My mother had a chronic illness, and urgently needs attention, but in Venezuela, the hospitals are useless and could not give her adequate medical care. When she arrived in Colombia, her health condition deteriorated rapidly. Despite all the efforts of the doctors, they could do little for her, including they amputated her leg, but all was in vain, and my poor mother died.

-Iranis pauses; her gaze is lost on the horizon, remembering better and not so sad times. How are you doing right now, Iranis? She watches me closely and tells me

Now the situation is critical, I don't have a job, and neither does my husband, the children are locked up here and cannot go to school due to the pandemic. My brother, who also lives nearby, is also in a critical situation, he does not know what to say to his family as it is becoming more difficult every day to bring the bread home.

- Could you tell me about your experience with the IELCO Humanitarian Aid Center for Migrants?

I came to the Humanitarian Aid Center of the Lutheran Church through a social worker who recommended me. Thank God, I came to you at a time of dire need. The Coronavirus left us without income and food, and without being able to pay the rent for the house.

The help that you gave me helped me a lot, and I don't know how to thank you for everything you have done for me.

The basic foods they have given me have helped me feed my family; otherwise, we would have suffered from hunger and worse.

In this neighborhood, where there are many of my compatriots, hunger is felt in the streets, and despair abounds. I don't know how much longer this situation will continue, but I hope that with God's grace, we can overcome it.

-Thank you very much Iranis for your time and for opening your heart to us; Iranis, even with red eyes from tears, stands up and smiles, saying to me:

Thank you very much for listening to me. God bless you.

I leave the neighborhood, the day is ending, and I can't stop thinking about the difficult situation that many families like Iranis live. It worries me to think that it will be theirs if this situation continues. Given this situation that migrants experience, it is important to join efforts with the different organizations.

At the beginning of 2019, the Center for Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan Migrant-IELCO began its help to migrant families. They came to the country with hopes, and with great challenges and inequities.

Now we are committed to improving the quality of life of the families that are part of the project.

COVID-19 tests not only the Migrant Aid Center but the nation and the world itself.

The pandemic arrived in Colombia in March 2020, but we were not prepared for such an emergency.

Anguish is spreading in the country, Venezuelan migrants are unprotected as they suffered a triple horror, first having to leave Venezuela fleeing hunger and atrocities derived from the regime and then having to face a hostile environment in an unknown country, and now COVID-19.

The pandemic had caused Colombia's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in 1929. Researchers estimate that the population living in poverty will grow from 20% of the population to 27%; Venezuelan migrants will suffer further from this deterioration.

In this context, the IELCO Humanitarian Aid Center has tried to mitigate the effects of COVID -19 on the Venezuelan migrant population participating in the project. In these moments in which we must show integrity and adapt to change because we cannot fail.

So we have entered into strategic alliances with different religious organizations; The main one is the Food Bank of the Archdiocese of Bogotá. The Súmate Network is also supporting us. This has allowed us to expand the scope of the project and increase the coverage of food aid.

The history of Iranis Higuera illustrates this whole crisis. Still, even though the situation is desperate, there will always be hope for them who do not give up and continue fighting for a better world.

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