The Venezuelan way: One family’s story

Fabiana left Venezuela and her entire family behind after her father was diagnosed with cancer.

By the time of his diagnosis, the family could barely afford to eat, let alone pay for cancer medication, with each treatment costing 10 to 20 times Fabiana’s minimum wage monthly salary.

“In Venezuela, you can’t find medicine. You can’t find food. It’s very difficult to eat. What you earn in a month is not enough to feed yourself for a month. If you eat, you don’t buy clothes for your children,” she said. “This is why I went to Colombia  —  to work, to try to provide a better life for my mom, dad, and my kids.”

Left: A man holding vouchers. Right: Two people hugging amongst a group of people sitting (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)
A USAID partner distributes vouchers for hygiene supplies at a volunteer’s home that has become a community gathering spot for Fabiana and her fellow Venezuelans sheltering in Bucaramanga, Colombia. (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)

The situation is taking its toll on her whole family, Fabiana said. She had to leave behind her three children, who are struggling in Venezuela without her. Fabiana’s siblings are scattered throughout the region, doing what they can to send money home. Their mother, weakened by untreated hypertension and the stress of her husband’s illness, is growing increasingly frail. And for Fabiana, life in Colombia has been harder than she expected.

“We don’t have the means to pay for things here because we cannot find jobs. And if we find money for, let’s say hygiene supplies, then we won’t eat, or we have to sleep at someone’s house because we don’t have anywhere to sleep,” she said.

She rarely has anything left to send back to her family in Venezuela.

Bucaramanga, Colombia, as seen from the air (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)
Bucaramanga, in central Colombia, has become a haven for Venezuelans like Fabiana, fleeing the crisis back home. (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)

For now, Fabiana has managed to find a room to rent in Bucaramanga, a mountainous city in central Colombia, about 160 kilometers from the Venezuelan border. Here, Fabiana has received some relief from a U.S. Agency for International Development partner that is providing emergency health care and vouchers that can be redeemed at local stores for necessities like soap, toothpaste and household supplies.

“These small things that the organization has provided, it seems so little but has helped us so much,” Fabiana said. “I thank the organization for the medicine you give us, the medical assistance that we can’t pay you back for, and the hygiene supplies we would never be able to afford because everything is so expensive.”

Empty health clinic room (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)
A USAID partner is operating a health clinic in Bucaramanga, Colombia, that is providing medical services to Venezuelan migrants like Fabiana. (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)

Still, Fabiana said the hardest part is being away from her family and her country.

“Once upon a time, Venezuela was one of the richest countries, a gorgeous country,” she said. “I love my country. But now I’m here in Colombia to find happiness and prosperity for my family.”

Fabiana plans to put on a brave face until the day she can be with her family once again.

“No matter how we feel inside, we will always smile. This is the Venezuelan way,” she said.

This story originally appeared on USAID’s website.