The Crisis Continues

In Colombia and Venezuela nothing has improved.

Shanna Duke

When Glendys looks at her 7-month-old daughter, she is reminded of the child she lost in Venezuela two years ago. The death of her firstborn child because of poor health services pushed her to make the difficult decision that millions have already made: to leave Venezuela and search for a new home. 

Now Glendys is going back. With her daughter in a stroller and a pack on her back, the 21-year-old mother is determined to return to her childhood home, if only to see relatives one last time and convince herself she made the right decision to leave. 

“They want to be home and see for themselves if the situation in Venezuela is better,” says ADRA program manager Helena Sounders. “Unfortunately, they will find the situation is only worse.” 

One of the millions of caminantes—those who flee Venezuela by foot—Glendys is not alone in returning to the place she fled. Every day in Bucaramanga, a major Colombian city near the Venezuelan border, migrants pass through: young men traveling alone; small family units carrying children; large caravans of caminantes banded together for protection. Some head southwest for a new life in Bogota and beyond. Others head east to Venezuela, if only temporarily. 

Though directions may differ, one thing remains the same—they have all walked hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. 

Just to reach Bucaramanga, Glendys has already pushed her daughter more than 300 miles over 22 days. Her journey is far from over. “Based on past experience, I expect one more month of walking to get back home,” she says. 

The journey is not easy. Recently Glendys and her little unit joined 23-year-old Oriana and her family, which includes her husband and 6-year-old daughter, Lucia. The two families will cross the Andes together, the highest peaks of which reach more than 11,000 feet (3,350 meters). 

The dangers are not only natural, however. Sleeping on city streets in tarps and coats exposes the families to the predations of others. 

“We take turns sleeping,” Glendys says, “but last night both families fell asleep, and the little food we had was stolen from us.” 

Oriana is familiar with the dangers. Some nights strange men will lurk in the shadows, calling out to her daughter and other children shivering on the cement. “Sometimes she thinks this is all a big game,” she says of her young daughter, “but most of the time she is afraid and crying for home.” 

Oriana also misses her home in Venezuela, but when she called her mother, who still lives in her childhood town east of Caracas, the older woman urged her to stay in Colombia. “I was walking back with the hope of things improving,” Oriana says, “but my mother says nothing has improved.” 

Now Oriana will walk to one of the border towns and wait. The new plan is for her brothers to return to Venezuela, find their mother, meet Oriana, and then all walk together to Bogota in search of a better life. The only problem: her phone was stolen last week. She doesn’t know how she will communicate with her family. 

“I’m just going to wait,” she repeats. 

To support the arduous journeys of the many caminantes in Colombia, ADRA operates mobile clinics and food delivery trucks to meet the basic needs of those who have almost nothing. Five days a week ADRA delivers 110 food boxes containing a sandwich, cereal, granola bar, piece of fruit, water, and fortified nectar. For those who receive one of these boxed meals, it will likely be the only food they eat that day. 

Additionally, ADRA operates stationary clinics, mobile clinics, and mobile first-aid units, designed to help meet the acute and chronic needs of those with no access to health care. 

Since 2018 ADRA has met the basic needs of 138,707 Venezuelans. But without additional 

Glendys has pushed her 7-month-old baby in a stroller more than 300 miles and 22 days on her journey back to Venezuela. 

funding, these projects are nearing their end. The ripple effects are immense. In addition to emergency food and first aid, migrant families who settle in Colombia rely on ADRA to meet health-care needs—needs that otherwise go unmet. And because of restrictions in Colombia, migrant children who do not have health care do not get to go to school. 

Editor’s Note: ADRA is able to continue these lifesaving programs to bring food, health, hope, and—by extension—education to thousands because of donor support. Visit ADRA.org to discover ways to give.

Shanna Duke