Consistent Service Can Expand Understanding
Besides being a member of TSOS in Bogota, I am also a member of Giving Hearts, a local volunteer group. Our volunteers are from different nationalities and range from teens to adults, but what unites us is a passion for helping people in our community who are in need. Our small army of volunteers go out on Saturday mornings with donations in tow. Typical donations include food, toiletries, shoes, clothing, baby items and even dog food because some people carry dogs with them. The people we help in our community are homeless. Most are Venezuelan refugees, but some are internally displaced Colombians. Venezuelans have been pouring into Colombia for the last several years because of economic, social, and political instability, only to find themselves in an even more challenging situation due to the pandemic and nationwide protests this year.
The protests were difficult for everyone, but for the refugees, their food insecurity and housing situation worsened. To address the protests and violence, the Colombian government implemented strict ordinances like curfews. Between the protests, pandemic, and government measures, public transportation slowed, and in some places stopped, grocery stores were limited in stock, many roads connecting cities and towns were closed, and restaurant and retail stores were forced to close. As a result, we lost contact with many of the refugees for a period of time. In February of this year, the Colombian government began to allow Venezuelan refugees, who meet the requirements, the ability to seek legal status. Not all of them qualify but by bringing many of them out of the shadows they can seek employment and qualify for public services. Over the last year we have developed close relationships built on mutual trust with many of the families we help. We know their names, their personal stories, and individual needs. We are fully aware that our donations are only a temporary band aid for a larger problem. A bag of groceries only goes so far, and they will be back the following Saturday for more.
Sometimes however, we can make a bigger impact in someone’s life. We are currently working to supply a little girl named Maria with uniforms so that she can attend school. Giving Hearts has supplied her with backpack, shoes, and clothes. The love Maria’s parents have for her and for each other is palpable. Maria’s parents take public transportation every day and go to the same bench at a local park at 5 a.m., including weekends, to “work”. They set up on their bench which sits under beautiful, majestic trees that provide them some protection from the elements. They can be found there at any given time, and always with smiles on their faces. Maria’s family sweep and keep their area clean. They are setting an example for their daughter and reminding us all that every person is entitled to live a life with dignity and pride.
To read more about the Venezuelan refugees and their plight:
Just as citizens in Europe and the U.K. have heroically supported displaced Ukrainians by opening up their homes or securing other housing, assisting with school enrollments, employment needs, and language learning, Americans now have the opportunity via the Welcome.us Sponsor Circles program to directly help newly arrived Ukrainians. The United States has committed to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians temporarily for a period of two-years and the ability to apply for employment authorization in the U.S. as long as they have a U.S.-based sponsor to petition for them.
When I was in high school, I was fascinated by geography, and it struck me that there was a highway that I could hop on in my car and drive all the way down into South America. As an imaginative young girl growing up on the Texas-Mexico border, the idea of a road that could take me from my sleepy border town, Laredo, Texas, to the edge of the world in South America, left me awe struck. In high school I learned that this highway is called the Pan-American Highway.
“We are victims of the armed conflict in Colombia and now forgotten and abandoned by the state. We hope to have all the good-hearted people who can help us, we are very grateful."