June 22, 2021

From Venezuela to Brazil, the Lord Brought Us Here

Jose Alberto Romero, Coordinator of the Liberdade Social Center at Fe y Alegría Brasil – RR gives us a local vision about what it means for a migrant to be able to participate in the programs implemented by Fe y Alegría Brazil in support of those forcibly displaced persons, specifically the ones who come from Venezuela.

“Ah, you speak Spanish, thank God” is one of the most common expressions heard by the Fe y Alegría Boa Vista – Brazil staff when they receive a Venezuelan immigrant. This is the expression of those who arrive tired from traveling by foot or bicycle under the beaming sun, adding mileage to an already long journey from an empty house located in what was before their home city. As they take their second breath, they spot the red heart logo with three children drawn in the interior. Venezuelans know this logo, they identify a connection with their beloved country. They know this logo represents something good. In Venezuela, it is everywhere, in hundreds of schools, representing popular education programs. Sometimes these immigrants don’t come alone, they are accompanied by their family, including small children and babies, looking for help in order to achieve what they long for, a better future for their family.

Fe y Alegría did not arrive at Boa Vista by coincidence. We are here as a result of the observation, discernment, and actions of men and women who recognized the necessity of being present at the frontiers of exclusion. I always remember with happiness Ronilson Braga Agnaldo Junior y Pedro Pereira (Pedriño) Jesuits priests who brought forth the Company of Jesus to the north of Brazil. In 2018 we embarked on a path of great challenges and major learnings, first in our work with children, and later, little by little with their families and the community that welcomes them. In the first years, we established our service of coexistence and strengthening of bonds for children and adolescents, guaranteeing them basic services of protection, food, integration to Brazilian society, and the enjoyment of their rights. Today, 3 years later, Fe y Alegría Brazil accompanies thousands of immigrant families and nationals in the middle of a pandemic. Our humanitarian assistance includes delivering food, hygiene kits for the prevention of Covid-19, gas refills, clothes, and accessories for pregnant women, in addition to the services that we already came to provide.

In search of new ways to help the families who experience vulnerability, this month of June we inaugurated the temporary shelter “José María Velaz”. This shelter will welcome families as they transition to other states of Brazil, supporting the efforts of “Operación Acogida” an initiative by the Brazilian army in its strategy to respond to the migratory crisis, called “Interiorization”. This initiative relocates migrants to other Brazilian states, better prepared to receive a high migratory flow. Additionally, Fe y Alegrías’ program supports these migrants by offering training workshops for entrepreneurs, accompanying and helping them for up to four months while their small businesses generate their first earnings. This program contributes to the integration and economic independence of those families who decide to settle in the city of Boa Vista.

Another line of action at Boa Vista is the project “Cuidando a la casa común” (“Taking care of the common home”). This program was developed as part of the Fe y Alegría International Federation initiative focused on integral ecology. At Fe y Algría Boa Vista, we accompany indigenous leaders– Warao, Eñepa, Kariña y Pemon with training, investigation, and activities that promote the recovery and preservation of their language and culture. These groups also are displaced migrants from Venezuela, who also face great challenges, as they work to adapt themselves to a different society and language, all the while trying to find a new place to live.

Brazil is large and diverse, Fe y Alegría is too. With a vocation of welcoming, protecting, and helping, the majority of our collaborators are bilingual, prepared for intercultural and interreligious work. This enables us to adapt to local realities and the specific needs of our beneficiaries. Being prepared to respond to challenging and constantly changing realities is key in our work. Our sense of commitment motivates us and prepares us to always be willing to welcome those who seek our services and think of creative ways to lessen the impact of forced migration on their lives.

The projects developed in Boa Vista are the result of combined work and collaboration; the team of staff members in the city, the team in our national headquarters in Sao Paulo, our national and international staff members, civil society organizations, religious organizations, other works of the company such as the Servicio Jesuita para Migrantes y Refugiados (SJMR) (Jesuit Service for Migrants and Refugees) and the university pastoral staff, in addition to volunteers that donate their time for this cause. Moreover, we are grateful to the countless Brazilians who have welcomed tens of thousands of migrants that have crossed the borders in the last 4 years in order to rebuild their lives and who, in gratitude, want to contribute to the development of this great nation.

I am also an immigrant. 4 Years ago, I arrived in Brazil, just like the others with a suitcase, intending to move a whole life to a different country. Today I understand that we are all migrants in this life, just passing through. As such, we are called to be empathetic with those who for different reasons are forced to abandon their country leaving behind family, a home, dreams, and roots. The migratory experience is painful, sometimes it includes poverty, loneliness, insecurity, and xenophobia, among others. This experience, however, can also be an extraordinary opportunity to extend our horizons, learn about the inherent richness of cultural diversity, in order to reconstruct our lives. Experience allows us to help those who come after us. Only God knows what will come from here. Echoing the words of the singer and philosopher Facundo Cabral, who after visiting over 100 countries was asked, “What is the best place in the world? ” He responded: “This one because the Lord brought me here”, today we can say the same. God brought us here, God blesses this place and the people that welcome us.

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