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Jairo and Simona : a fight for survival

Jairo Epiayu is a 38 year old indigenous Wayuu man who worked himself to the bone in Venezuela to provide for his wife, Simona, and their six children, but their lives were manageable. They were happy.

“During better times in Venezuela, I worked long, tough hours on a farm milking cattle. I earned 600 bolivars,” said Jairo.But under the cruel Venezuelan regime responsible for food shortages, a collapsing economy, disease, and violence, Jairo and his family were in a fight for survival.

“Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis got worse and the economy collapsed, and I was only earning 9 bolivars for the eight of us. That was not enough for anything. We were fighting to stay alive,” he continued.
When times became too difficult and he and his family made the decision to flee the humanitarian crisis in Venezuala, his homeland of Colombia welcomed him with open arms, even after not living in the country for 30 years.

Jairo was born in Monguí, Colombia, and is of Wayuu descent. Even after not living in the country for 20 years, he is still Wayuu by blood and therefore welcome in the indigenous community. For the Wayuu people the belief of “one family” runs deep in their indigenous culture. Being Wayuu transcends national borders.Unfortunately, La Guajira, the rugged, rural region of northern Colombia where the largest population of Wayuu still live, is depressed and its people are marginalized. The Wayuu themselves rely on humanitarian aid. Food insecurity, malnutrition, high mother and child mortality, poor access to health care, long-standing droughts, economic instability, and disease are just several in a long list of issues facing this indigenous community in northern Colombia.

After gaining trust of the community’s leaders, Malteser International Americas received unparalleled geographical and cultural access to the community. For three years we have been the only humanitarian organization working in the region develop programs to strengthen the overall health of the community. This humanitarian crisis is particularly hard on them. Accepting indigenous refugees, migrants, and returnees fleeing Venezuela across the border is placing more instability on the already unstable indigenous community

While his homeland welcomed him, the economic situation Juan y Medio -the community where Jairo and his family are living in La Guajira- has been nothing but closed doors. The outlook is dismal.
“I am desperately trying to find work, but the truth is that there isn’t any work here. I am very worried about the situation. We don’t have a place to live. My family and I are going from place to place, sleeping in one room. Because I don’t have a job, we don’t have any food, said Jairo.”

Jairo and his family are some of the many indigenous people caught up in the Venezuelan refugee crisis, seeking refuge in Colombia. Please consider giving today to our ongoing relief efforts.

Jill Watson


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