ONG Proyecto Salto Needs Help to Keep Helping Venezuelan Expats

Proyecto Salto helps individuals and entire families leave the country, providing immigrants with resources to start their new life abroad. It’s no easy task, and they need support in order to keep doing it.

Photo: Semana

The one-man resettlement effort that Guido Nuñez Mujica described earlier this year in Caracas Chronicles is picking up steam, and ABC News published this piece on him that piqued my curiosity.

Guido, a Venezuelan émigré, now works for a tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area, splitting his time between there and Denver, where his husband lives. Originally from Valera, Trujillo, Guido knew since he was a child that he wanted to get out of the “culture where people are together all the time and personal space is unknown.”

But as he approached graduation from the ULA in 2007, he tried to make a go of it in his native land by starting a biotech firm. Even there he proved to be a man of great heart; his firm attempted to build an inexpensive diagnostic device called “LavaAmp,” that would allow, for a fraction of the cost and size, the detection of diseases afflicting inhabitants in the developing world. He and his partners weren’t able to get that venture off the ground, however, and as he puts it in his piece, he realized that “Venezuela was going to crash and, if I was foolish enough to stay, it would drag me down with it.”

I have to confess that when I first read Guido’s proposal last year, I was very skeptical, maybe even cynical; I suspected another scam to get money and enrich an NGO. I told myself I wasn’t cynical but just a hard-nosed realist who has hit up against the stark reality of human corruption enough times to realize there’s no free lunches. Look at Oxfam, just one of a number of aid organizations rife with corruption, embezzlement and worse.  

Venezuela was going to crash and, if I was foolish enough to stay, it would drag me down with it.

When I spoke to Guido this past weekend, I wanted to ask him how I could know he was really doing what he says he’s doing: helping Venezuelans escape the slow motion disaster in their country.

On his website (he’s still developing it), there’re several videos of testimonies from Venezuelan immigrants he helped escape. Perhaps he’ll get more documentation up as evidence to potential donors, contributors and collaborators of the work he’s done with limited funds. In response to queries, Guido sent me other YouTube videos of testimonies — there’re many, including one of a family Proyecto Salto helped get to Lima.

After our conversation, and taking time to watch the videos, I was convinced that Guido is the real deal, and there’s a lot more evidence to prove it. He’s been writing about the Venezuelan situation for years; he’s a TED Fellow, and Cornell University picked him up for a leadership and science communication program; and when AP talked to him, they also checked the testimony of several other people he helped.

So far, his funding campaign isn’t doing too bad, though at $6,500 or so on Friday night, he’s still a long ways from his $40,000 goal.

Given the situation with Venezuela and the massive numbers of people leaving, a lot more help is needed.

And Salto really could use some funding. Right now the organization appears to be not a shoestring operation, but a project still in need of shoestrings. Like his website, this is an organization under construction. One Venezuelan friend, Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz and his company, In House International, has helped with the design of the website and logo, and Sebastián Gamboa from Mérida is helping with audiovisual pieces. But given the situation with Venezuela and the massive numbers of people leaving, a lot more help is needed.

Currently, there are more than 550,000 Venezuelans in Colombia alone, and millions more fleeing to Brazil, Peru and anywhere else they manage to get to. The problem is beyond the abilities of one person, or even one organization, no matter how committed or well funded. I asked Guido why he doesn’t let those big anonymous outfits (like Oxfam) do the work for him, and he simply says “because they aren’t.”

The US government recently promised $2.5 million to help Venezuelans in Colombia, where more than a third of the 1.5 million displaced Venezuelans are living, but since that amounts to some $5 per displaced person, that money won’t go far. As for NGOs, I’ve found one helping fleeing Venezuelans, and that organization is working with a $60,000 budget, focusing just on Cúcuta.

So it’s quixotic, but worth it. Guido tells me that “if [people] stay in Venezuela, it’s a death sentence, either from sickness or hunger, or crime.” So, up to this point, he’s put his own money where his mouth is, and he needs us to pitch in, with anything we can. Fair enough.

Clifton Ross

Clifton Ross recently published his political memoir documenting his conversion from Chavismo to the opposition. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife and co-editor, Marcy Rein, and their two cats.