How easy is life for Venezuelans in Cuenca?

I read the other day a post where an American was asking about the signs of “Rent an apartment. No foreigners”, around the city. Somebody kindly answered – “They are not referring to gringos. They mean Venezuelans and Colombians”.

So, as Fundación GRACE: Give Refugees a Chance Director, I would like to talk about the situation for Venezuelans in the city.

1. Access to education:
Understand, there is access to education. Many Venezuelans are studying in the schools and universities of the country. However, it isn’t effortless, and in many cases, parents are rejected because they do not have enough money to buy uniforms or they arrived after the registration period. Every week we serve more children and adolescents at the GRACE Foundation who seek psychological help because they were victims of bullying and xenophobia in their schools. “Don’t play with the Venezuelan,” “Be careful if you’re looking for a Venezuelan girlfriend,” “You’re just stupid,” if they don’t understand the class, or “majadero” if they ask the teacher. These are the testimonials of many who have sought help. Diagnoses hardly change. Depression, anxiety and even suicide attempts.

Access to employment
According to the UNHCR, there were about 25,000 Venezuelans by the year 2022 in Cuenca. Approximately 150 families were begging in the streets. Many of those families you never see. What do those you don’t see live on? Well, in most cases, they were overqualified for the jobs available, but they still take them. For the men, it is challenging to get work. They face a lot of judgement from everyone, and the reality is that many Cuencanos are afraid of them.

On the other hand, as a Venezuelan woman, I have lost count of the times I have gotten into a taxi and have been asked where I am from. Telling them from Venezuela, they continue: “I just knew. They are beautiful.” and tell me about their fantasies while I send the location to my husband in case I don’t get home. Of course, it is easier for women to get a job. But, you can imagine the treatment they receive in customer service.
Venezuelans are not here to steal other people’s jobs.

Access to health
Years ago, this was a different country, with many more possibilities but a lot has changed. You can go to a hospital if you have an emergency, and you will be treated after waiting hours, and if you are dying. The public health system is in decline. There is fewer medicine, and of course, they are more selective to how it is given out.
As a foreigner, you are last in line. Many come to the foundation asking for help.

Women arrive with their children in their arms, asking for vaccinations because the health center does not want to vaccinate them because they are Venezuelans. I want to avoid making the same mistake of generalizing because, by law, access to health is for everyone. Still, many are afraid to go to hospitals due to previous experiences or lack of valid visas or passports. This is why the work we do is so relevant.

International organizations
Is there no one to help? Sure. There are organizations in the country, such as HIAS, who gives small monetary help to families only for six months, and that can be spent only on food and has other programs but it’s so busy that has to refer us patiens, just like the hospital. Also, the IOM or UNHCR seeks, time and time again, to create entrepreneurship programs. Please, if you have the time, investigate the success rates of those programs.

At GRACE every program we create with the idea to hire refugees because we believe in their capability. We see over 500 patients every month with medical, psychological, pediatric, gynecological and dentist consultations. Whenever we can or have volunteers for, we give music, English and art lessons for kids and teenagers. We see hundreds of malnourished pregnant women and babies every year and do the best we can to give them food and vitamins that are donated to us. And we offer our services to anyone who is looking for refuge. We see Venezuelans, Colombians and even Ecuadorians who are in a pretty bad shape.

Of course, there are many Venezuelans who are a little better off and want to help. Also, there are many Ecuadorians who have been migrants and understand, Cuencanos who have lived for many years in Venezuela, and Americans who are full of empathy who feel the pain and discomfort of the Venezuelan community. May God always bless them because we at Grace could not do our job without them.

There are many, many Venezuelans who have already left. Of course, there are no official reliable statistics. For those who remain, we continue to work and fight against xenophobia, but the reality is that the more Ecuador goes into decline, the more fear of the “foreigner” will grow.

Karla Sanchez Arismendi: 095 920 4786. Call after: 9 AM.

City: Cuenca

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