Photo: Human Rights Watch retrieved.
The more we know about the situation of displaced Venezuelans, the more we’re moved by their stories. While earlier waves of Venezuelan migrants included people with a more formal education and comfortable financial means, the most recent exodus is mainly comprised by vulnerable populations, including women travelling alone or with children, unaccompanied children, the elderly, indigenous populations and even people with disabilities. In fact, the prevailing tendency is for Venezuelans with less means and in precarious health conditions to travel abroad in the region, mainly on foot, because they lack the funds to buy a plane ticket, or a bus trip.
The phenomenon of “caminantes,” or the Venezuelan Walkers, is now common, and we’re not talking about minor walks here.
The phenomenon of “caminantes,” or the Venezuelan Walkers, is now common, and we’re not talking about minor walks here. We did the numbers: walking an average of 30 kilometers on foot daily, it’d take a Venezuelan 11 days to get from San Cristóbal to Bogotá, 24 days to Quito and 47 days to Lima. The number of days may increase according to age, physical condition, or if the person pushes a baby stroller (more usual than we imagined) or a wheelchair (a more recent trend). The number of days can be less if they make stretches by bus, or if kind truck drivers travelling the routes give them a lift. Shoes and socks, that many of us take for granted, are vital. To cushion each step, caminantes generally use more than a pair of socks, sometimes four or five pairs. The shoes also wear out quickly.
The first part of the road to Colombia, and parts of it in Ecuador and Perú, include hot temperatures. The displaced Venezuelans need food and water, as well as vitamins, since they’re often victims of fainting and fatigue. As if that wasn’t enough, the path includes the infamous Páramo de Berlín in Colombia, Rumichaca in Ecuador and other locations with extremely cold terrains that Venezuelans aren’t used to. There’s a great need for blankets, winter jackets, winter gloves, hats for adults and, especially, for children. Medical attention is also needed. Due to limited access to adequate medical care in Venezuela, and given the physical exhaustion associated with these long walks, many need not only medical check-ups, but also medical emergency support. They also need, of course, shelters.
There’s a great need for blankets, winter jackets, winter gloves, hats for adults and, especially, for children.
Many living in Colombia use their own time and means to help the caminantes, too. We’ve covered the wonderful things our Alba Cecilia Pereira does in Bucaramanga for Venezuelans, but before people reach her zone, in Pamplona, there are many others helping, going up the páramo to bring food and water, jackets and supplies. Juana Rico documents how las mujeres del camino, as she calls them, help caminantes venezolanos with arepas and sandwiches, coffee, hot chocolate, a bed to sleep in, a blanket. They’re also providing jackets, hats and mittens for kids. Juana knows of a mom who walked all the way to the páramo with her one-month-old baby and her two other toddlers. There’s Doña Marta, who “heals, baptizes, cooks, coordinates y regaña que da miedo, because, on her own, she takes care of up to 300 people, getting them a place to rest and sleep,” and Martha Duque and Leonor Peña, along with many others, also supporting the Venezuelan migrants and refugees in need.The Colombian government is doing a commendable job providing the humanitarian assistance, but has asked for international support, as these needs add up to those of their own people. Truck drivers along the Panamericana who allow Venezuelans to hop on the back of their trucks deserve praise, too. Their compassion sets an example for those who reject or discriminate Venezuelans.
Every bit of support counts, from the institutional to that coming from regular folks who do it out of empathy and solidarity, honoring our humanity. Indeed, these situations can bring out the worst in some, but also the best in others.
If you can, check out their Facebook page, and try your best to help them, because if one of us is in need, all of us are.