Venezuela: A pregnant mother’s harrowing journey

By: 
CARE

It isn’t easy to sleep in the street. It isn’t easy to be constantly harassed.

For Génesis Gonzales and her young family, living in Venezuela became unfeasible a long time ago. She says:

Even if you have a job you don’t earn enough to buy anything. You have to wait for help from a government that sends you a box of food whenever it feels like it, every four months, every three months. Unfortunately, when you have kids you can’t wait three months to eat.

The last thing Génesis wanted to do was to leave home, family and friends – but what choice did she have if she wanted a better future for herself and her children?

Genesis and her family, Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador

Despite being a few months pregnant, Génesis set out on foot with her husband and son. They walked for days at a time until their feet bled and blistered. They headed first for Colombia, where they hoped to find more stability. Génesis says:

I thought that once we got to Colombia we were going to be OK, but no.

Finding legal work as Venezuelans is difficult and the family had to live on the street, begging for food and facing discrimination and harassment for months. She says:

It is not easy to sleep in the street. It isn’t easy to be constantly harassed by a policeman who follows you around, saying you can’t stay here, you can’t stay here either.

Genesis, a Venezuelan refugee, washing clothes at a washstand

So they decided to try to go to Peru, where they have friends and a small semblance of a support network.

They are not alone in fleeing the country that they call home. Venezuela is experiencing an unprecedented and man-made humanitarian crisis, causing a mass exodus of its people.

Venezuelan refugees at a border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador

Over 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled due to instability, hunger and poverty. Ninety percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line and 300,000 children are at risk of dying from malnutrition.

Half of Venezuelan refugees and migrants are estimated to be women and a further 30 percent are children. Women are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Trafficking networks operate near border crossings and there is evidence of transactional sex in exchange for food. Génesis says:

There is a lot of harassment by the men. Once I was working for this man and he took me up into these huge hills and then he turned off the car. … He was grabbing me – he tried to grab me hard – but I didn’t let him.

Génesis is determined to make it to Peru, but she has not stopped thinking about her family and the home she left behind. She says:

There’s nothing you want more than to be in your country with your traditions, with your people, your family.

Genesis, a Venezuelan refugee, with her son

Interview and reporting by Jacky Habib; story by Debbie Michaud. 

CARE has assisted more than 17,000 Venezuelans with food, water, hygiene support, protection and health services, shelter and unconditional cash transfers.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.