“We did not want to leave,” said Libe, an indigenous Venezuelan refugee, in referring to her home country. Libe found a new home in Belém, the capital of Pará in northern Brazil. She and large numbers of other Venezuelan residents are fleeing their cities in search of a new life in Brazil. They are among millions who, in the past year, have lost their job, were starving, and decided to migrate to other South American countries.
Due to political unrest in Libe’s home country, many essential items have disappeared from market shelves, according to media reports. Living conditions are worsening as many have lost their jobs and can't afford to provide for their families.
Libe shared that she has been living in Belém for 16 months. She stayed in hotels and shelters and now shares a residence with 100 other people. Housing is funded by the local city government, which also provides food on a weekly basis. Despite official support, she said, they are missing items such toiletries, cleaning supplies, mattresses, and fans to endure the high Amazon temperatures.
The refugees also lack proper health care and someone who can speak their language, she said. According to media reports, most of the refugees are from indigenous tribes and speak a dialect. Few of them understand Spanish or Portuguese. Often, hand signs are used to try to understand what they want to say or communicate what they need to hear. Language has been a barrier that prevents refugees from getting a job, even on an informal basis. Many wander through the city, begging at traffic lights.
Adventist Youth Volunteering
While a comprehensive solution has not materialized, some local young Seventh-day Adventist members have rallied to help ease the pain of the newcomers.
“It all began one day as I was walking down a major street in downtown Belém,” said Flávio de Souza, who is behind an initiative to assist refugees. “I saw a whole family of Venezuelan refugees begging for money or food. It touched me deeply. I gave them some money and went on my way.”
De Souza explained that at the time, he did not know where to find Venezuelan refugees other than on the city streets. “I prayed to God, telling Him to put me in a place I could be of any help,” he said. Through social networks, de Souza found out about the city’s shelters. Then, with the support of friends from a Bible study group he attended, he visited some of the shelters and chose one as the first recipient of the group’s assistance. After identifying the refugees’ needs, Adventist young people launched a drive to collect the items needed.
Saturday (Sabbath), February 2, 2019, was the day chosen to distribute the donations, which included food, cleaning supplies, items of clothing, and shoes. “As we made our best efforts to understand each other, we were united in a moment of prayer,” young volunteers shared after the event. “We helped refugees [to remember that] faith is the fuel that will assist them to confidently face the future.”