Photo: Courtesy of Alba
They call her “la Vocera de los Venezolanos” in Bucaramanga, “la Consul”, “la Embajadora de Corazón.” Alba Cecilia Pereira has been living in “la Ciudad de la Ética Democrática” for 14 years, has seen the gradual arrival of Venezuelans as a result of the social, economic and political crisis, and has kept records of all Venezuelans stopping by her restaurant asking for help. According to her database, it’s around 50,000 people.
Originally from Barquisimeto, Alba lived in Caracas, where she ran a restaurant that, like many others, was looted. Robbed of all her equipments and her savings crashing with those losses, she went home, opened a map of Colombia on her computer, closed her eyes and randomly placed her finger on the screen. She arrived to Bucaramanga on February 14, 2004, and has lived there ever since, doing different jobs in a line of work that’s also her passion: cooking.
Showing how berracas Venezuelan women are too, Alba established her own business, “Sabor Aquí ”, featuring, of course, Venezuelan food, and from this command center, she started helping fellow arriving countrymen and women in finding a good job.
Alba Cecilia has kept records of all Venezuelans stopping by her restaurant asking for help. According to her database, it’s around 50,000 people.
In 2016, the arrivals started to increase. Exponentially.
Numbers vary: from 3,000 Venezuelans (as quoted by the city council), to 20,000 (according to the Santander governor) were reported in 2017. Another way to get an idea of the migrant population is to use the number of Venezuelans who voted last year in the non-binding referendum against la constituyente: 5,039.
As people started migrating, those heading to Colombia heard about la mujer que ayuda a los Venezolanos in Bucaramanga. Alba soon became the go-to-person for Venezuelan migrants — the stories she has gathered are appalling: people walk from Cucuta for 4 days, because they don’t have money for the 6-hour bus ride. They arrive to Bucaramanga with their skin looking, in Alba’s words, “like burnt wood”; a family of six, mom, dad and 3 daughters (15, 12 and 1 year and a half), recently arrived from Guarenas completely malnourished; a father with an epileptic daughter walked alone from El Vigía (8 days straight), trusting Alba to find medicines for his daughter (and she did, enough to last until December 31, 2018). This man, of course, walked the 8-day road back right away.
But La Consul also supports migrants with her personal finances. Her restaurant changed from having 10 tables, to 4. The rest of the space? Storing food, medicine, diapers, water, energy drinks and clothes donated by Santanderianos to help Venezuelans. In August 2017, this effort became the Entre2Tierras Foundation.
The most important job Entre2Tierras does, however, is advocate for the most vulnerable Venezuelan migrants before city officials.
Apart from fundraising and collecting basic items to cover the needs of Venezuelan migrants, Entre2Tierras establishes a training center to teach them the skills for occupations like bakery, gardening and mechanics. There’s Venezuelan surgeons, lawyers and engineers willing to hacer lo que sea, but when odd jobs are offered, they don’t know how to do them. The Foundation is here to help.
The most important job Entre2Tierras does, however, is advocate for the most vulnerable Venezuelan migrants before city officials, and those who manifest xenophobia or rejection. Those arriving don’t have the means to stabilize themselves and are, thus becoming homeless, gente de calle sleeping in the Parque García Rovira (in front of the Mayor’s office) and the Parque Centenario.
Alba insists in praising la solidaridad Santanderiana. She values the work of city officials, but thinks the national government should declare a “humanitarian emergency.”
As a Venezuelan, in the diaspora, it kills me to hear the stories behind the numbers, but my faith in humanity is strengthened when I know of people like Alba and the “Entre2Tierras” Foundation.
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