According to a local office devoted to social assistance and human rights in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, over the last two years, 7,980 Venezuelans have found refuge in one of Brazil’s municipal shelters. The last caravan of immigrants who crossed from Venezuela into northern Brazil arrived November 27, 2021. It included 89 people with a few bags and many dreams of rebuilding their lives after years of a declining economy and social unrest.
“I want to start a new life,” one of the newly arrived Venezuelans said. “We suffered a lot in our country.” The same person shared that at the beginning, when they crossed the border into Brazil, their situation was dire. “We walked all the way to Pacaraima and slept in the street. It was hard; it seemed that we were still in Venezuela,” he said. “Only here in Manaus things are improving after we arrived at a shelter.”
The refugees fleeing from hunger and unrest live in a state of vulnerability and arrive in Brazil with high rates of malnutrition, especially children. According to some studies, 26 out of every 30 children are showing signs of slowed growth. They also suffer skin diseases and a compromised immune system.
Another Venezuelan newcomer arrived with her three children, an uncle, and a cousin. She shared, “We believe in God, and prayed a lot to be free of the life we had [in Venezuela]. Now we can start dreaming again,” she said.
Refugees have long relied on assistance from the region’s residents, who have already welcomed so many immigrants. And that’s where the volunteer work of Seventh-day Adventists, dedicated to making the new homes for these families more beautiful and comfortable, comes in. “It gives us joy to see children happy, families receiving gifts, with their eyes shining,” regional Women’s Ministries leader Meiryanne Rezzuto said. “We are putting the love of Jesus into practice.”
One of the shelters includes five large buildings. Recently, Adventist volunteers, including those serving at the regional church headquarters, spent a day painting the place. “Events such as ‘10 Days of Prayer’ help us to focus on [these kinds] of activities,” Amazonas-Roraima Conference President Mark Wallace Ribeiro said. “These initiatives help pastors to live up to a life of service just as Jesus taught us.”
All those staying at the shelter were gifted with a Bible, a set of Bible studies, toiletries, cleaning kits, and baskets with other basic items. “They need more than just items,” activity coordinator Janete Oliveira said. “They need to know God so they can dream again; they need to have a reason to live again and seek a new life.”