Rappi: The Colombian Unicorn that Has Given Venezuelans a ChanceThe socio-economic and political crisis in Venezuela has forced millions of citizens to flee the country in pursuit of better opportunities. In fact, there are approximately 4.5 million Venezuelans abroad. Almost 1.8 million are in the neighboring country of Colombia. This migratory movement has generated a demand for blue-collar jobs. Rappi, the Colombian unicorn, has become a very important niche for migrant labor. It allows them to start over and overcome their poor economic and social condition.

Rappi is an innovative App that works as a large shopping center in which the customer gets all kinds of products. The product quickly arrives at the customer’s location. This business model requires thousands of office employees as well as shoppers and distributors. While many of the Venezuelans that enter neighboring countries only have a high school diploma, Rappi has opportunities for them. The Venezuelans can provide for their families with only a bike and a smartphone.

The Presence of Venezuelans in Rappi

With only five years in the market, Rappi has seen a constant 20% growth every month. This reaches thousands across 9 countries in Latin America. This rapid increase has been directly correlated to the massive emigration of people. Today, 57% of Rappi’s distributors, or better known as rappitenderos, are Venezuelans. This is because Rappi only requires the special permit acquired with the traditional migratory process and no previous working reference.

Many studies have shown that Venezuelans in Rappi work considerably more hours and days by choice in comparison to Colombians. Rappi provides a flexible model in which distributors accommodate the hours they work according to their necessities and availability. The Venezuelan rappitenderos work around 10 to 12 hours a day, while Colombian rappitenderos work approximately 8 hours. Moreover, 97% of Venezuelans work up to 7 days a week while only 5% of Colombians work 6 days. 

Rappi has helped Venezuelans find a job in which they can provide for their families. It also has looked for other ways to help their families. Rappi has partnered with Valiu, a Colombo-Venezuelan startup. This collaboration helps the rappitenderos send money to their relatives that live in Venezuela and struggle with poverty. This partnership has created better alternatives for distributors to manage their income and help their families.

The Impact

Rappi is the first fully Colombian, and one of the most important, tech firms in Latin America. It is the perfect innovation that has eased people’s lives, changed consumption habits and helped small businesses thrive. More than anything, it has allowed thousands of Venezuelans that have been looking for a better quality of life. It has become a means to reduce poverty and close the gaps of inequality.

The startup was born with the mission to make people’s lives easier. It extended its main goal to a community that today calls for help and needs to generate extra income for their personal and professional goals. Additionally, Venezuelan migrants contribute to the national economy of Colombia. Despite challenges and migratory processes, they have found their way and Rappi has been the dominant employer for this strong workforce.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Pixabay

Alimenta la SolidaridadVenezuela has a convoluted political, economic and social situation. The present humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has placed the country in fourth for the largest food crisis in the world. The nonprofit organization  Alimenta la Solidaridad (Feed Solidarity) chooses to tackle this issue head-on.

The Situation in Venezuela

According to the World Food Program, one in every three Venezuelans require food assistance. Venezuela’s deteriorating situation has decreased the household’s access to food as well as the purchasing power of the people. In 2019, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans suffered from food insecurity and approximately 9.3 million required immediate food assistance.

The current food dilemma is expected to worsen due to the current economic crisis. Already, the plight has increased childhood malnutrition and starvation. Children in Venezuela rarely obtain vital nutrients for proper growth and adequate cognitive development.

A Nonprofit to the Rescue

Alimenta la Solidaridad was determined to combat the rampant food insecurity in Venezuela. Since 2016, it has provided around 7,508,000 meals to Venezuelan children in need. The program started mainly in Distrito Capital, the capital’s state, but it has gradually expanded nationwide. It now operates in 14 additional states, has a total of 188 dining rooms across the national territory and gives food assistance to over 14,000 children.

The nonprofit recognizes the necessity to contribute their part to society. Alimenta la Solidaridad aims to find sustainable solutions to the food-related challenges that plague many low-income Venezuelan families. This organization works exhaustively to soften the effect of the nutritional deficiencies that many children in this program possess.

How Alimenta la Solidaridad Works

Alimenta la Solidaridad operates through donors with the help of mothers and fathers from the communities. The nonprofit gathers people willing to share their home to provide the space for community kitchens. Volunteers cook, organize the children, clean and manage the daily operations of this effort. The organization is “more than a plate of food.” When people with Alimenta la Solidaridad get together, they create a place of transformation.  Sometimes, they create activities that turn into opportunities for the development and empowerment of children. Mothers in the program also receive growth opportunities.

Alimenta la Solidaridad provides training courses that will empower the mothers. The new skills are then put right back into the organization. These mothers often end up taking one of the most important roles within the organization. They don’t only make the initiative possible, they also teach the children to grow in the values of co-responsibility, involvement and service.

Alimenta la Solidaridad aids the outside communities as well. The initiative contributes to the reduction of criminal indexes within the surrounding areas. Further, the organization promotes community organizations and volunteer work. They uplift these avenues of aid as a way to fulfill their mission of providing daily meals to children with food insecurity in Venezuela.

Hope for the Fight

Despite the painful reality in Venezuela, many efforts across the territory keep trying to find ways to help. Alimenta la Solidaridad is the perfect example of an organization that managed to provide aid despite the bleak circumstances. The nonprofit’s dedication and goodwill has developed a model based on responsibility and empowerment. This method boosts the sense of involvement and amount of voluntary service within Venezuelan communities in need. Food insecurity has met its match with the hopeful spirit of the resilient Venezuelan people.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Pixabay

BetterTogether ChallengeSince 2015, roughly five million people have left Venezuela in hopes of finding a better life. This marks the largest displacement of people in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Its economic collapse has rendered the local currency practically worthless and thrown Venezuelans into rampant poverty and hunger. The average Venezuelan lost about 25 pounds of weight in 2017 when 80% of the population lacked reliable access to food. The BetterTogether Challenge aims to support struggling Venezuelans.

The Collapse of the Venezuelan economy

Despite having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the Venezuelan government’s mismanagement of its resources and economy led to a cataclysmic collapse. When measured by income, 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty and the average citizen lives off a paltry 72 cents a day. The 2019-2020 National Survey of Living Conditions found that 65% of Venezuelans live in multidimensional poverty, an increase of 13% from the previous year. Multidimensional poverty incorporates measurements such as access to health care and education, in addition to income.

A Mass Exodus of Venezuelans

The abject poverty Venezuelans have experienced has led to mass emigration to neighboring countries. Colombia and Peru collectively have had over two million Venezuelan immigrants. The integration of Venezuelans and their culture has been abrasive in countries such as Peru, where negative attitudes persist toward Venezuelans.

The displacement of millions of Venezuelans has disrupted a highly educated generation. A whole 57% of Venezuelans living in Peru have received higher education and roughly 25% have university degrees.

While negative views of Venezuelan immigration have limited the number of incoming Venezuelans, neighboring countries would be wise to recognize the inherent value possessed by the Venezuelan people. The displaced Venezuelans carry massive potential, which if properly harnessed, can have a substantial impact on local economies and innovation. Furthermore, the integration of Venezuelans into the labor markets of their host communities would provide additional cash flow that could boost local economies.

BetterTogether Challenge Empowers Venezuelan Innovation

As a strong and steady champion against poverty, USAID has partnered with the InterAmerican Development Bank to create the BetterTogether Challenge to support Venezuelans. The goal of the challenge is to fund innovative solutions from Venezuelans to support their resilience, test solutions to be integrated and promote communication between Venezuelans and their new communities. In August 2020, the BetterTogether Challenge Award winners in South American countries were collectively awarded $2.97 million.

The BetterTogether Challenge awardees are focused on increasing social cohesion, fighting xenophobia, empowering women, improving employment opportunities and improving access to health care, education and food. These solutions are crucial to rebuilding Venezuela and reducing poverty in their communities.

International Rescue Committee in Colombia

One of the most impactful organizations chosen for funding was the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Colombia. Nearly 1.5 million Venezuelans have found refuge in Colombia, with roughly 35,000 crossing into Colombia daily to purchase supplies. The IRC supports Venezuelans in Colombia by providing safety, access to healthcare and economic assistance while protecting the women and children that may be disproportionately vulnerable. A key initiative launched by the IRC is the Families Make A Difference Program, which provides essential management and support to children who have been harmed and educates families to prevent harm.

Supporting organizations such as the IRC are vital for fortifying Venezuelan resilience and providing people with life-changing resources during times of need. Furthermore, initiatives like the BetterTogether Challenge empower Venezuelans while addressing poverty.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in CubaIn the wake of online activism, social media has become a prominent tool in spreading awareness through videos, graphics and even articles like this one. Online platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, have proven to be quick and effective ways for younger activists to mobilize.

Recently, posts containing facts about poverty in Cuba have been circulating on apps. However, alongside important information, the truth can also be misconstrued on the internet. Let’s examine the validity of some popular online claims to differentiate the myths from the facts about poverty in Cuba.

5 Myths and Facts About Poverty in Cuba

Myth: Salaries in Cuba do not exceed 1,000 non-convertible pesos a month.

1,000 CUP, which is the equivalent of $37, was rumored to be the top-ranking salary for Cuban professionals in an Instagram post. Although there are contradictory claims about Cuba’s median monthly earnings, a recent Havana Times article reported a national wage increase in 2019. The change is set to bring an 18% increase of the median monthly wage to combat international trade blocks. The Cuban government is also increasing the salary of professors to 1,700 pesos and government journalists to about 1,400 pesos.

In a virtual interview with a Cuban native and Havana resident, Claudia Martínez, this wage increase was confirmed. Martínez, who works as a Historian at the University of Havana, claims, “The median salary of a Cuban is 400 to 500 pesos, a bit more now with the salary augmentation that they did. For example, I used to earn 530 CUP which is equivalent to 21 [U.S.] dollars or CUC monthly. Now, I’m earning 1,500 pesos which is equivalent to 60 CUC[…]”

Fact: Oil sanctions are devastating Cuba.

Amidst a political clash between the U.S. and Venezuela, the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned four companies transporting oil from Venezuela to Cuba. Cuba is now experiencing a shortage of petrol due to these sanctions.

Food production and public transportation have seen major cuts following the deficit. Factories have also shortened work hours as a way to conserve the island’s petrol supply. Cuban citizens fear that the oil shortage will eventually lead to mass power outages.

U.S.-Cuban relations have historically been rocky. However, development in economic partnerships have sprouted programs that bolster a positive relationship between the two countries, such as the Cuba Project by the Center for International Policy. Backed by a code of ethics, the project is dedicated to facilitating sustainable business practices by Cuban citizens to uplift communities out of poverty while being environmentally conscious.

Myth: The national currency is not being accepted in stores.

Cuba’s economic system uniquely includes two currencies: the national coin known as CUP and a convertible currency meant to be compatible with the U.S. dollar known as CUC. In July of 2020, the Cuban government opened stores that solely run on foreign currency as a way to generate revenue and fund social programs. The government stated that despite this addition, regular stores will continue to accept CUP and CUC for the public.

Martínez detailed the function of these MLC stores which stands for “Moneda Libre Convertible,” or freely convertible currency. She differentiates these businesses from regular stores stating, “In [MLC] stores, there are products that are normally expensive in other stores.” Martínez continues, “For example, [MLC stores] carry a 20-liter tank of cooking oil that costs 40 dollars, but other stores don’t carry this because it’s more expensive and it’s not what the average person consumes. But that they don’t accept national currency is not true. In fact, I went and bought cooking oil with national currency at the stores just the other day.”

Fact: There is product scarcity on the island.

With the harshest economic obstructions the country has seen as of late, Cuban citizens are seeing a lack of certain consumer products. Food and hygiene products, such as meat, cheese, soap, and toothpaste, are hard to come by. These shortages are only expected to escalate if trade blocks are not lifted soon.

Caritas Cubana is a nonprofit organization that aims to help Cuba’s most vulnerable populations during times of crisis. In 1991, the Catholic Church established the organization, and its influence has been notable. A Boston-based sister organization called Friends of Caritas Cubana popped up in 2005, growing to be the largest international donor for the charity. With the help of donations from Friends, Caritas Cubanas was able to serve 48,153 people in 2019 with programs for senior citizens, children with disabilities, HIV and AIDS patients as well as those affected by catastrophic natural disasters.

Myth: Boycotting the country will end economic injustice.

Tourists have wondered if avoiding politically-fragile countries, like Cuba, will help resolve corruption within the government. This belief of government exploitation is echoed in this Instagram post.

However, studies show that tourism in Cuba “has the potential to help raise national incomes, increase employment in well-paying jobs, and contribute to Cuba’s greater participation in the world economy.” Considering tourism is one of the country’s most concrete methods to alleviate poverty, it should be protected.

If tourists have any ethical reservations for visiting Cuba, there are alternative measures that can be taken, such as boycotting government industries while traveling. By strictly consuming products and services from local businesses and avoiding extravagant resorts, visitors can invest in citizens while still getting to experience Cuba’s allure.

Usually, local tour guides are hard to come by without personal recommendations. However, the website Toursbylocals.com allows tourists to book private guides while traveling. This is a great start to developing local connections in Cuba so travelers can get introduced to the best restaurants, boarding houses and other locations without government ties.

Exercising Caution When Reading Social Media

Avid social media users should be wary of the framing and intentions of online infographics. With a long history of unresolved political unrest, Cuba has been a target for other states hiding under the veil of “national security.” However, action against poverty should be taken despite political differences.

Generally, the recent global events have made the public is more impressionable than ever, so caution should be taken when interacting with posts. Users should review other media outlets to get the real facts about poverty in Cuba.

Lizt Garcia

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Venezuela
As the political, economic and social unrest continues in Venezuela, an increase in awareness and response to human trafficking is more urgent than ever. Human trafficking is a crime that exploits someone for labor, slavery, servitude or sex. Some of the causes of human trafficking (relentless poverty, high unemployment rates, violence, civil turmoil and a lack of human rates) are motivating 6.5 million Venezuelans to flee their country. About 94% of Venezuelans live in poverty, with an estimated 300% increase in human trafficking between 2014 and 2016. The former Venezuelan President, Maduro, administration prioritized maintaining power and carried out tenuous trafficking eradication attempts, including a lack of investigations, prosecutions and convictions. In response to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, organizations like UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR and IMO are contributing strong efforts to meet the needs of citizens, refugees and migrants and prevent human trafficking in Venezuela.

Inconsistencies in Human Trafficking Criminalization

From 2013 to 2019, the Maduro administration was responsible for managing economic adversity, increased crime rates and immense migration in an attempt to obviate human trafficking in Venezuela. The Maduro administration utilized Misiones (government social aid programs) as a deterrent to poverty and human trafficking in Venezuela. Misiones benefitted some communities by providing basic needs and education but became ineffective in 2014 due to its shifting political agenda, administrative instability and insufficient funding.

Venezuela has established human trafficking as a crime, but it still does not have an anti-trafficking law and policy. The Maduro administration demonstrated the intention to combat the development of human trafficking. However, Venezuelan law in 2019 only criminalized select forms of trafficking with insufficient penalties, prevention, reporting and protection of vulnerable groups. The human trafficking industry usually percolates between developing countries, making the rapid increase the only quantifiable data. Despite the challenge in obtaining evidence, eradicating human trafficking is most successful through prevention methods, the punishment of the perpetrator and adequate protection for the victim.

UNICEF and UNFPA

Venezuelan women and children are particularly vulnerable to the risk of being trafficked while migrating to neighboring South American countries. The urgency Venezuelan migrants feel to send money back to their families increases the risk for criminal gangs and guerrilla groups to force children into begging and women into sexual and labor exploitation.

On May 28, 2019, UNICEF and UNFPA signed an agreement heightening the humanitarian aid response to nearly 1 million children, pregnant women and mothers. This joined effort provides drinkable water, sexual and reproductive health services, high-quality birthing support, educational resources and information to increase safety for those who gender-based violence affects.

UNHCR

With an 8,000% increase in Venezuelans pursuing refugee status over the past six years, hundreds of thousands prevail without access to basic necessities. Without the authorization to stay in neighboring countries, arriving Venezuelans are highly susceptible to trafficking and desperately in need of documentation, shelter, nourishment and medical attention.

In December 2018, UNHCR collaborated with IOM and host countries to commence the Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants which prioritizes 2.2 million Venezuelan migrant’s needs and improves overall assistance. UNHCR has increased protection along dangerous borders, provided basic resources for relief and ensured that refugees and migrants receive adequate information about advantageous opportunities.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM)

The 1 million Venezuelan children working in the informal labor sector and an estimated 200,000 children in servitude is likely to increase due to human trafficking in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government supported programming to improve conditions for working children and assist victims of human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) imposed a campaign translated as “Your Life Challenges with fiscal support from the U.S. This campaign aims to protect Venezuelan children, women and men from traffickers during their transit. “Your Life Changes” is a song that conveys cautionary implications for travelers who are vulnerable to human trafficking. The campaign includes live demonstrations and the propagation of informative materials to increase awareness of forced labor and human trafficking in Venezuela.

The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF)

Colombia currently hosts 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants, making The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) a crucial development in the prevention of and support for youth victims of human trafficking. From March to June 2018, ICBF determined that there were 350 Venezuelan victims of child labor in Columbia. ICBF provides care, programs, assistance, shelter and evaluations for Venezuelan child trafficking victims. The Institute focuses on the prevention of human trafficking through its educational training and increased awareness strategies.

A Continued Response

The responses from International Conventions, government policies and agencies to aid Venezuelans have undoubtedly protected many from their dangerous reality. However, Venezuela has remained a Tier 3 country as the government is not doing enough to eradicate human trafficking. The inconsistencies in the Venezuelan criminalization of trafficking and anti-tracking laws have compromised the well-being and lives of far too many. The Venezuelan crisis has stripped citizens of their humanitarian rights, calling for continued, collective efforts to assist those in need.

– Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Venezuelan MigrantsThe poor living conditions that have escalated in Venezuela since 2013 have led to a surge of Venezuelan migration into neighboring Colombia. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an especially dangerous and difficult time for these Venezuelan migrants and refugees, humanitarian organizations are working to support their needs.

The Current Situation for Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Since 2014, the number of Venezuelans pursuing refugee status increased by 8,000% due to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, coupled with a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. There are currently 1.8 million refugees and migrants in Colombia.

Colombia has put containment rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited opportunities for Venezuelan migrants to find employment and access food. Because the majority of Venezuelan migrants do not have stable employment contracts, their reliance on daily jobs, which are now more difficult to find, has left many families without the proper income to afford basic necessities. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Bucaramanga, a city in north-central Colombia, already had malnutrition rates of 20% in children and 5% in adults. The following humanitarian organizations have helped provide for the unmet needs of this population.

The Start Fund

In April 2020, the Start Network, a nonprofit committed to localizing funding and innovation for humanitarian action, developed the Start Fund COVID-19. The initiative has been able to tackle challenges from the pandemic that is “neglected or underfunded.” It is with the Start Fund COVID-19’s financial support that prominent humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide relief for Venezuelan migrants.

Fundación entre Dos Tierras

Fundación Entre Dos Tierras is a Colombian humanitarian organization that emerged to support especially vulnerable Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga. Before the pandemic worsened conditions for this community, volunteers already hosted the Programa Tapara, which provided food, clothing and medicine, along with three other programs. Fundación Entre Dos Tierras has become a local partner to two international humanitarian organizations to combat food insecurity for Venezuelan migrants attempting to return to the Venezuelan border.

Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International

As a result of the current health crisis, many Venezuelans have had to live in hotels or congregate in parks. Venezuelans in Colombia who are homeless or have experienced eviction are the target population of Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International’s work. Each day in Bucaramanga, 750 people receive two meals and 800 people obtain hygiene kits.

Because of the complications for employment that Colombia’s containment rules have caused, some Venezuelans are attempting to return to Venezuela. Of these returnees, 1,600 migrants are to receive hygiene products and enough food to last 48 hours.

Solidarités International

Solidarités International has also constructed rehabilitation programs for Venezuelans along their migration journeys. There are four shelters present on one of the main routes that go through Bucaramanga to Medellín and Bogotá. The humanitarian organization, in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale, has increased the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and WASH services. As a vulnerable community during COVID-19, sheltering in these spaces creates a safer refuge along their journeys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated food and housing insecurity for Venezuelan migrants and refugees residing in Colombia. The collaboration between Fundación Entre Dos Tierras, Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International has created temporary aid for thousands of Venezuelans. It is imperative that this vulnerable population continues to receive support throughout the pandemic.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Women’s Rights in Venezuela TodayIn Venezuela, women have always needed to fight for their rights. However, now more than ever women need much more support. In the constitution developed in 1999, all citizens regardless of gender have social, political and economic rights. The 2007 law reform Organic Law of the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence, women are more often in disadvantaged positions than men. Women’s rights in Venezuela have been neglected and much-parodied by a government that calls itself “feminist.”

Women’s Rights in the Past

The first years of Chavez’s government saw the development and reinforcement of programs that enhanced women’s rights. For example, they implemented the Women’s Bank (which has ceased to exist) and the Women and Gender Equality Ministry. The 2007 Organic Law of the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence was considered groundbreaking. It is internationally recognized as “one of the most progressive in the world,” as it broadened the definition of domestic violence. However, this is as far as the government has gotten into reinforcing women’s rights in Venezuela.

Women’s Right in the Present Day

Today there’s a persistent gender gap in Venezuela. A 2016 report from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that around 54% more women between the ages of 20 and 59 are not actively in the workforce. Instead, there are more women now who have become head of households than in 1990, 39% in 2011 versus 24% back then. Since women have fewer opportunities in the workforce due to their lack of experience, women in Venezuela are often staying at home. In addition, the worsening healthcare system plus the great shortage of contraceptives, which have fallen around 90% since 2015, only strengthen women to remain in their “traditional roles as mothers and caretakers.”

Issues that Affects Women in Venezuela

Indeed, Venezuela is the country with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also sees a rise in HIV and other STDS cases due to the lack of contraceptives. There is also a great shortage of menstrual products, which has made a huge impact on the lives of women and girls, often becoming an impediment for them to go to school or work. Moreover, the maternal mortality rate has sparked over these few years, with a rate of 66%. As a result, this led many women to seek out better healthcare in other foreign countries like Colombia, in which 26,000 women gave birth to their babies since 2015. There are supports and efforts from UNFPA and local organizations and the promises made by the government. However, there have not been any other options but for women to migrate to other territories.

International Aids

UNFPA along with UNICEF and PAHO has delivered 90 tonnes of health, water, hygiene and sanitation and education supplies to Venezuela earlier in April. Indeed, these supplies were vital for vulnerable women and families in Venezuela. There is also support from organizations such as the UN Population Fund. The UN Population Fund imported thousands of contraceptives to fight the shortage and supply the market. However, there is still much to be done.

What To Do

Today there are only 32 women out of 167 representatives in the assembly. Increasing representation of women in politics is one way for women’s rights to become more accessible for them. Women’s participation in politics can benefit innumerable ways in the country. For instance, ending the gender gap and increasing women’s physical security. Gender-based violence is another problem in the Caribbean country. Indeed, only this year there have been 157 women who died at the hands of physical violence, according to a report of Uthopix’s Monitor de Femicidios. Complaints often go unreported, and the ones that aren’t do not always go to trial. By including more women in political positions there will be a better chance for women’s rights to be assessed adequately.

Alannys Milano

Photo: Flickr

Venezuela's Health Care
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic and political crisis. About a third of the children in Venezuela are in need of humanitarian assistance. Rayito de Luz, a nonprofit organization that provides basic necessities to children with cancer in the poorest communities in Venezuela, combats the lack of access to nutrition and health care that extreme poverty causes in the country. Here are five facts about Venezuela’s health care and poverty.

5 Facts About Venezuela’s Health Care and Poverty

  1. Poverty in Venezuela is extremely high. In 2019, an average Venezuelan earned merely 72 U.S. cents a day. Based on this income, 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty and 70% live in extreme poverty. This figure is significantly higher than the poverty rate in 2014, which stood at 48%.
  2. The child mortality rate has risen in Venezuela. According to UNICEF, the crisis that has devastated Venezuela has left children increasingly vulnerable. The under-5 mortality rate was over 24% in 2019, surging from 17% in 2017, reversing a downward trend that had been continuing since 1999.
  3. Child malnutrition is a huge problem. In 2016, the Global Nutrition Report stated that among Venezuelan children, the percentage of child wasting (low weight-to-height ratio) was 4.1%. In 2017, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World stated that Venezuela’s undernourishment rose to 13% from 10.5% in 2005. Additionally, a 2017 report stated that 15.5% of children showed some levels of child wasting, and 20% of other children were at risk of malnutrition.
  4. People are fleeing from Venezuela. In the four years of Venezuela’s crisis leading to the end of 2019, over 4.6 million Venezuelans fled the country. This is about 16% of the population, making it the largest migrant crisis in Latin America in over half a century. This means that medical professionals such as doctors and nurses are fleeing the country as well, causing a shortage of medical professionals.
  5. Venezuela’s health care system is failing. Venezuelan hospitals are struggling to stay open as they face a severe shortage in medicine and other health care equipment. Desperate Venezuelans must buy medicine off the black market in order to survive. With COVID-19, the already-fragile health care system is buckling under the weight of the outbreak. As of early March 2020, only 300 COVID-19 tests were available for the entire country of 30 million people.

Rayito de Luz

Since board member Zeanly Gomez founded Rayito de Luz in 2015, the situation in Venezuela has dramatically worsened. According to Gomez, many children in Venezuela are experiencing malnourishment with different illnesses. The organization provides food, medicine, clothes, toys and school supplies for the children in response to Venezuela’s health care crisis.

Gomez collects donations in Katy, Texas, where it puts items in boxes to ship to Venezuela. The donations take up to four weeks to get to Venezuela before making it to local organizations that distribute them to children with cancer and other illnesses.

With the goal of saving as many Venezuelan children’s lives as possible, Rayito de Luz has helped over 10,000 children in 2020 alone.

– Mizuki Kai
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela
Venezuela is a Latin American country located in the northern region of South America. It has been under an oppressive regime since 1999. The country was once a prosperous oil-rich country. However, the past and present leadership of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have led to economic collapse and horrible conditions that its citizens face every day. These conditions have caused 4.6 million Venezuelans to flee since 2016, accounting for 15% of the country’s current population. Here are five facts about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

5 Facts About the Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela

  1. The ever-increasing hyperinflation of the country leaves its citizens with virtually worthless income. With a recorded inflation rate of 9586% in 2019, the income earned by Venezuelans can come out to be as little as $0.72 per workday. The bolivar currency that has been used for decades in the country has become almost useless since many goods and services are being charged in U.S. dollars at a regular U.S. price point. With an exchange rate of 1 VEF (Bolivar) to $0.10, something as simple as a pound of apples is now valued at $18. Buying food, hygienic supplies and clothing can now cost months’ worth of income for a household.
  2. Venezuelan women who try to find refuge in neighboring countries are often kidnapped and forced into sexual exploitation. There is a growing migration rate of Venezuelans to other countries to find better living conditions. Many of these migrants illegally cross the border, which makes them vulnerable to xenophobia and exploitation. Accounts of the prostitution of hundreds of young girls crossing borders by bus or foot at a time are common in the neighboring country of Colombia. Migrating Venezuelan women face other dangers as well. From January to August 2019 alone, 27 Venezuelan women were killed in Colombia. The majority of the incidents were related to sexual violence.
  3. Basic goods in supermarkets are extremely scarce, expensive and require waiting in line for hours. With prices already soaring and taking up most of the income of Venezuelans, there is a dangerous scarcity of basic items such as toothpaste and drinking water. Families line up outside of supermarkets the night before or stand in long lines of up to four hours in hopes of food being available. The scarcity of virtually every product including basic medicine and hospital equipment has increased the maternal mortality rate by 65%. The infant mortality rate also increased by 30% in recent years.
  4. There are frequent power outages, which lead to higher water insecurity. Like the scarcity of basic items, utilities such as running water and electricity have suffered a shortage in Venezuela. The electricity blackouts cause water shortages that can last up to two weeks. As a result, citizens are forced to use contaminated water. This in turn arises concerns of infections and diseases such as Hepatitis A and typhoid fever. In March 2019, many areas in the country went 10 days without electricity. Notably, on March 25, 14 of Venezuela’s 23 states experienced a complete outage. During this time, men, women, children and newborns had to resort to showering with sewage water or dirty water collected during rainfall.
  5. The autocratic president, Nicolas Maduro, tampers with elections and throws political opponents in prison. The party and president in power hold full responsibility for the situation in the nation. The rigged election process keeps them in power, in spite of the crisis. In the last elections of 2018, bribery with nation benefit cards and other forms of aids were used to get the president re-elected. Supporting an opposing leader or party is becoming harder since the Maduro regime has arrested more than 12,800 people linked to anti-government protests and beliefs. Notably, Leopoldo López was held under house arrest for almost four years after calling people to the street to protest the government.

Who is Helping?

Several organizations have taken the initiative to combat the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. One of these organizations is the South American Initiative, which has been using monetary donations to feed starving children and adults, helping approximately 23,500 people. The initiative also supports Venezuelan refugees in camps in the nation and neighboring countries, providing almost 71,000 meals. The organization has raised $48,903 for aid.

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has been ongoing for over 20 years. Scarcity, inflation, corrupt leadership and refugee exploitation are some of the many problems the nation faces. Thankfully, there are efforts from organizations to help relieve Venezuelan citizens. However, much more needs to be done before the crisis can be completely eradicated.

Veronica Spinelli
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela’s Women Migrants
The pandemic has forced Venezuela’s women migrants to seek out sex work as a means to survive. With nothing to eat or to support their children back in Venezuela, they are charging as little as $2 for sex in foreign countries according to women’s right protector Karina Bravo.

The Situation

Since the beginning of the crisis, Venezuela’s women have had to look for creative ways in which they can still provide food for their children and themselves. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), an estimated 6.5 million will flee the South American country by the end of 2020; 4.5 million have emigrated already. Walking miles and miles away, they gained the name of the Walkers (Los caminantes) as they cross frontiers and reach their destinations. Yet, due to the current coronavirus pandemic, they have received eviction from Colombia (where Venezuelans are half of the workforce), Ecuador and Peru.

Now, they are on the streets, with no source of income or food to provide for themselves and their families. As a result, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the only option for many of Venezuela’s women was to either go back to their homeland before the borders closed–a country which unemployment, economic crisis, social crisis, food shortages, electricity and water shortages and a surge in crime and violence have obliterated–or become sex workers in a foreign country.

Women who are refugees are the most vulnerable to “labour and sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence.” Moreover, this is the truth for Venezuela’s women migrants, who have been emigrating from their country looking for a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

Prior to the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, Venezuela’s women migrants were already struggling, charging around $9 for sex in the hopes of sending money to their families back in Venezuela and sustaining themselves. However, because of the pandemic, they have had to charge as little as $2. Karina Bravo, a former sex worker in Ecuador and now a women’s right protector through the Latin American Network of Sex Workers, explained in an interview with The Guardian that the current conditions have led to Venezuela’s women migrants being unable to sustain themselves or send money to their families back home. On top of that, they are also facing trouble with available health services and experiencing emotional distress. These women also more frequently become victims of gender-based violence, including rape and stabbings.

Mothers are not the only ones to become sex workers; “girls as young as twelve” are part of the same fate, working for $1 an hour, according to Jana Lopez, a volunteer who is helping migrant families in Cucuta, the Colombian city bordering with Venezuela.

Even young Venezuelan women who applied for jobs in Trinidad and Tobago in the hopes of finding a better opportunity frequently become sex workers. This is a situation that is currently happening in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and many other countries in which Venezuela’s women migrants have emigrated.

Solutions

Indeed, there has been an increase in trafficking and sexual exploitation all over Latin America since the beginning of the pandemic, and it has become much harder for sex workers to find the help they need.

Yet, groups such as the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are still working to provide medical and preventive care, and mental health counseling services to sex workers in La Guajira, Colombia, most of whom are Venezuelans. All the organization’s services are free and it provides STDS tests, treatment, contraception, prenatal care, vaccinations and nutrition support. Since 2018, it has been providing immigrants with essential lifecare services which they cannot always access in their own countries.

Church organizations and networks are also operating near frontiers in order to help vulnerable immigrants and refugees who frequently become prey to trafficking and prostitution. However, an extreme urgency to expand more services to immigrants and refugees during the pandemic still exists so that they do not fall into the chains of sexual exploitation.

– Alannys D Milano
Photo: Flickr