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The plight of an indigenous Venezuelan refugee

Ana Ofelia González Cantillo is a 35 year old indigenous Colombian Wayuu woman who left Colombia 30 years ago for a better life. Up until recently she lived in Venezuela, but now Ana and her six children are refugees in her own country. After nearly starving, she and her family crawled underneath a dug out section of the city wall separating the two countries with only a chair and a hammock in hand.

In Venezuela, Ana and her husband both had jobs and were able to support their large family. She had a job as a housekeeper. Her children went to school and while they were not rich, they did not worry for food or medicine.

Unfortunately, Ana and her family’s life turned upside down when the economic and social crisis tore her adopted country apart. With hunger, starvation, and poverty afflicting Venezuela, her husband, Nelson, let Ana and their children for Colombia alone in search of work. She was left alone in a sea of uncertainty at home, without money and with 6 children to feed, aged 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2.

After a month the situation turned dire. She and her children had not eaten any food for and were surviving on water. Her 10-year-old son Samuel Andrés was on the verge of death.

“Without any food, my son, Samuel, got sick started vomiting. I was filled with despair. I could not feed my own children because I had no money and no food to give. My children were starving. I had to do something, but I didn’t know what.”

Anna was an anguished, helpless, and powerless mother. But in the darkness of despair she was led to a pastor who told her that a blessing would come to her in life. Miraculously, a few days later, after not knowing the fate of her husband, she received a phone call from Nelson. She understood that to mean that she and her children would flee Venezuela, even if she had to leave her mother behind.

While safe in Colombia, neither she nor her husband are working, and her children need medical care. One has an infection that is not going away. In December they built a shabby shelter of palm leaves and plastic on land they borrowed from friends. Without a job and without money, they are unable to build a safe home for their children that will withstand torrential rains and natural disasters.

They are desperate because the rainy season is approaching in La Guajira and they fear that everything will get wet. It is necessary to protect the house with wood for example for greater security, but it is impossible without money, it is impossible without a secure job.

“I am sad. The refugee situation is ugly. I left my house, my mother, and my sister. My little niece died of hunger. It is hard…it is very hard. It keeps getting worse. I can’t go back to Venezuela.”

Even filled with despair, Ana dreams of a better life for her family. She dreams of a stable job for her husband. And she dreams of her children becoming legal, going to school and having medical care. In spite of the sadness, hunger, the pain, and the death, she embraces her little ones and knows that she must continue to fight for them every day.

Please consider helping Ana and her family, and more refugees just like them.


Jill Watson

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