Women and building life and peace in the refugee camp

Arepas, dresses, a beauty salon. They arrived with next to nothing, fleeing conflicts and persecution that ripped them from their homes, family, and a lifetime’s worth of work. Now, they transform their skills into livelihoods, taking the reins of their destiny and that of their families, even contributing efforts and energies to building a new community that they’re already making their own.

“I CAME TO VENEZUELA 10 YEARS AGO WITH A SEWING MACHINE, TODAY I HAVE 12
MACHINES. I LOVE TO SEW”, SAYS LEDYS

“I came to Venezuela 10 years ago with a sewing machine, today I have 12 machines. I love to sew”, says Ledys. Originally from Córdoba, Colombia, armed conflict and the disappearance of her brother forced her to give up her land and flee to Medellin. She eventually sought refuge in Venezuela after a resurgence of violence. She is one of the beneficiaries of the “Initiatives for Refugee Women” organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service-Venezuela (JRS-Venezuela), which we support through the On the Colombian Borders program in the municipality of Maracaibo, in Venezuela’s northwest Zulia region.

Through training and the promotion of food security and income-generating activities, JRS-Venezuela seeks to promote self-sustaining processes for refugee women in the country. In order to strengthen skills and increase the family income of refugee women, JRS promotes long-term solutions to food insecurity and the vulnerable situation in which the beneficiaries find themselves. These difficulties are the result not only of their legal and socio-economic situation in a country with multiple barriers to migrant and refugee groups and asylum-seekers, but also because of their status as women. Likewise, it aims to bring dignity to the lives of beneficiaries and their families, contributing to the recovery of their self-esteem and legalizing their immigration status in the country.

IT AIMS TO BRING DIGNITY TO THE LIVES OF BENEFICIARIES AND THEIR FAMILIES,
CONTRIBUTING TO THE RECOVERY OF THEIR SELF-ESTEEM AND LEGALIZING THEIR
IMMIGRATION STATUS IN THE COUNTRY

Many have managed to make a livelihood through capacity building, microcredit, and
entrepreneurship programs, and empowerment and skills-building activities among JRS-Venezuela women’s groups, starting businesses that include selling food, sewing, and farming. Some have even gone a step further and established themselves as community leaders, implementing social initiatives through their work.

“When people who don’t have food, who have nothing, come to my workshop, I get the sense that the person is going through a tough time and I feel compelled to help. I teach them how to use the sewing machine and I feel at peace. I feel happy because they learn while contributing to my workshop”, says Verónica. She fled Colombia over nine years ago after being the target of threats and abuse as a transgender woman. Now she runs a beauty salon at home, after receiving beauty courses and JRS credit programs. Ledys is a community leader who motivates refugees and Venezuelans to work and start their own businesses while giving jobs to others in her workshop.

“I teach them how to use the sewing machine and I feel at peace. I feel happy because they learn while contributing to my workshop”, says Verónica.