BY KAREN MORÁN
Going back to beautiful Venezuela was an exciting opportunity for me that included a work and personal agenda, although in the very first day of planning everything changed. Locally, prices were rising every day (annual inflation is now more than 700 per cent), and plans forced to change, yet the hearts of our friends were still expectant and hopeful for our first visit in a long time.
Recalling 2001, when I was only 15, I moved with my family to Caracas to live there for one year and eight months, and I remember it as one of the most amazing countries I ever visited in South America. Looking back to those days and encountering today’s Venezuelans left a bittersweet feeling in my heart.
Sitting in the plane, a man by my side said, “I don’t want to scare you but I see you alone and I want to warn you….” A shocking story followed. “A co-worker was returning from the beach with her friend as she was kidnapped and brutally removed from her car in the middle of the road; some man called her family and asked for a ransom.” After three hours of no answer, she was set free with some bruises and a muddled heart.” “Well, thank you,” I said.
As I reflected and gave a thankful prayer, I knew there was nothing I could do. I remained in the plane at an altitude of 10,000ft – what was waiting for me?
Due to falling oil prices, currency control, lack of production and corruption, Venezuela has entered a deep humanitarian crisis with an increase in price and lack of raw material, food, medicine and toiletries.
The strict government controls and limited economic freedoms have resulted in uncertainty and insecurity felt day after day, affecting millions of people’s lives and forcing thousands to flee their country in search of food and medicine.
In 2017, Venezuelan hospitals reported 78% shortages in medicines, 75% failure in surgical materials and a 76% deficiency in catheters and probes, according to the organisation Médicos por la Salud.
Is the case of Barquisimeto city, there is a 96% shortage in anti-diabetes drugs a 95% shortage in drugs against respiratory infections.
During my visit, I remember hearing a doctor saying that the State has not provided epidemiological data for 2017. (In fact, the official epidemiological bulletin has not been published formally for three years.)
The reason for my trip was to visit our partner network, RENACSENIV, to encourage them, to understand their ongoing needs and delivery a few personal hygienic items that I’d collected in Costa Rica from family and friends.
The nature of the network’s programmes have had to shift to respond to the country’s crisis. It is providing basic foods, essential medicines and personal hygiene items to 335 people, including 260 children, in three sub-regions of Venezuela through a programme called ‘A Gesture of Love for Venezuela’. It is also providing training to strengthen families and churches.
On Sundays, churches hear stories of more parents without children – those whom were left in a hospital bed and never came back home – and children without parents who left them to look for any kind of family income and now are orphans or under the care of a relative who cannot afford to care for them.
The local church is certain that more difficult days are yet to come, nevertheless is strongly believing in God’s word that families, parents and children, who are part of the international community can hear their prayer, and are willing to put themselves in their shoes and step forward to provide help in any form. As a member of the network told me: “with only a prayer they can do a lot”!
The network is doing all it can to care for the community. I visited Las Bateas, a fishing village in Anzoátegui state and I saw how essential the network’s support is. The atmosphere is surrounded by poverty, drugs, crime and violence but we are thankful that there is always hope. One of the network co-ordinators and her husband and two children have started small study groups for children under the age of 12 years old. One non-Christian family has opened their home to receive these children so they can meet every Friday and study Viva’s ‘Why family matters’ tool.
Parents’ employment situation in this community puts children at risk. Fathers can only provide an income in two ways, either by fishing and by selling what they fish on the streets of the nearest city, or, they become part of a gang and steal car parts to sell to whoever offers the higher price.
In spite of this situation, there are stories of hope. One of these is a boy called Carlos and his family. Carlos’ brother was tragically killed by a gang who entered in the middle of the night whilst looking for his father. It resulted in Carlos’ father running away and leaving his family.
Carlos started to attend to a Bible study group and, during the first session, he asked for help and prayed for his father to come home again. Carlos’ prayers were answered – his dad has temporarily returned to live with him and his three siblings. For now at least, Carlos’ father is back home, and the family are safe.
During my visit to Venezuela, my heart was moved and my attitude was transformed. We need to plan even better, and build the strongest strategy possible to make our efforts and impact even wider. I know that our Venezuelan family find all our shared hugs, tears, laughter and deep conversations truly priceless.
Karen Morán is Viva’s network and programme facilitator for Latin America
Photos: Meridith Kohut/IRIN, Manuel Rueda/IRIN, liven7000