When you are welcomed by the school you left behind

Most people who are forced to leave their country behind do so neighboring nations on their own continent.

Venezuelan children are 53% less likely to go to school in Brazil and adults work more but earn less, according to a United Nations study.

Currently, approximately 260,000 Venezuelan men and women are in Brazil, having fled the economic, political, and social crisis in their country. Although the legal framework is favorable, many of these people face numerous obstacles in accessing social services, the formal labor market, and the education system. Many of these obstacles stem from language barriers and the difficulties encountered in corroborating professional skills or validating the documentation supporting educational training.

Venezuelan children are 53% less likely to go to school in Brazil and adults work more but earn less, according to a United Nations study. The socio-sanitary emergency resulting from Covid-19 has increased the situation of exclusion and vulnerability in which the Venezuelan population finds itself in Brazil, which is why the aid received by this population through social programs has tripled.

When that person walks through the entrance, a “Oh, you speak Spanish, thank God” is often heard.

When they arrive in Boa Vista, many Venezuelan migrants go to Fe y Alegría in search of information. This institution has been working there since 2018; it began by attending to migrant minors -mainly from Venezuela- and, little by little, also their families, in collaboration with the community that hosts them. Since 2020, this work has been supported by Inditex and Entreculturas through the project “Humanitarian aid and integration of Venezuelan forced migrants settled in Brazil”, within the EPGO III Programme. This is a service of coexistence and strengthening of ties for children and adolescents, ensuring them a basic service of protection, food, integration into Brazilian society, and the enjoyment of their rights.

Since last year, we have intensified our work accompanying thousands of migrant and national families in the midst of the pandemic, through humanitarian aid that includes food, hygiene kits for the prevention of Covid-19, gas refills, layettes for pregnant women, etc. In total, 5,143 people were assisted in the Fe y Aelgría Boa Vista social center in 2020 thanks to the support of the project.

Many of the Venezuelan men and women who arrive exhausted at this center and find the Fe y Alegría logo at the entrance feel that, after such a hard migratory journey, they have arrived home. In their country, the logo is everywhere, in hundreds of schools and popular education programs, and it stands for something good.

When that person walks through the entrance, a “”Oh, you speak Spanish, thank God”” is often heard. It is the expression of someone who has come tired from walking or cycling under the scorching sun, adding mileage to the already long journey from their empty house in what used to be their hometown.

The projects developed in Boa Vista are the result of the combined work of many people: the Fe y Alegría team in the city, the team at the national headquarters of the institution in Sao Paulo, funders such as Inditex, other civil society organizations, religious organizations, other projects of the company in the territory such as the Jesuit Service for Migrants and Refugees (SJMR), as well as volunteers who donate their time for this cause. Even more, the countless Brazilians in this beautiful country that has welcomed tens of thousands of migrants who have crossed the border in the last 4 years to rebuild their lives and who in gratitude want to contribute to the development of this great nation.

I am an immigrant too, I arrived four years ago, just like everyone else, with a suitcase trying to move a whole life to a different country.

José Alberto Romero, Venezuelan, is responsible for the coordination of Fe y Alegría Brazil in Boa Vista, tells us how painful and difficult it can be to migrate from his own experience – as a person who migrated to Brazil with his family – given that it also converges with poverty, loneliness, insecurity, and xenophobia, among others.

Today I understand that we are all migrants in this life, just passing through and that as such we are called to be empathetic with those who for different reasons are forced to leave their country, leaving behind family, home, dreams, and roots.

The migration experience is painful, sometimes involving poverty, loneliness, insecurity, and xenophobia, among others, but it can also be an extraordinary opportunity to broaden our horizons, to learn from the richness that is inherent in cultural diversity, to rebuild our lives and with greater experience to help those who come after us.