Photo: El Tiempo retrieved

Last Sunday, February 10th, caretaker President Juan Guaidó announced a platform for citizens to register as volunteers, to help manage humanitarian aid in four areas: Digital Volunteers, responsible for informing the public about the aid; Logistical Volunteers, to help institutions in monitoring, transport and distribution; Medical Professionals, to help care for patients; and Volunteers Abroad, whose tasks are yet to be set.

In Venezuela’s nationwide crisis, where only a few institutions with restricted capacities can tackle the daunting task of managing, storing, distributing and implementing humanitarian aid, involving organized citizens in the process may be the difference between success and mediocrity.

Remember, this emergency was caused and has been consistently denied by the regime, which means the state’s apparatus is unavailable to deal with the problem and, in fact, it hinders any measure to solve it, to the point of accusing foreign states of using humanitarian aid to stage an armed intervention, claiming that supplies are biological weapons containing cancerous cells. Moreover, the rampant corruption and criminal structures propped up by chavismo jeopardize the very integrity of staff and supplies involved.

Without the public network, any help will fall short. Aside from the state, only Caritas Venezuela has a nationwide presence with 412 parish offices and 30 diocesan offices across the country. Other national organizations with the capacity to manage humanitarian aid are the Venezuelan Red Cross with its state delegations, but they may not get involved as they have an ambiguously close relationship to the regime; Fe y Alegría has 170 schools all over the country, the Venezuelan Association of Health Services and Christian Orientation (AVESSOC) has about 50 dispensaries, and the Center in Service of Popular Action (CESAP) keeps 11 state offices. In ideal conditions, all of these would cover about 25% of the population in need of assistance.

Aside from the state, only Caritas Venezuela has a nationwide presence with 412 parish offices and 30 diocesan offices across the country.

This is where volunteers come in. Regular citizens can tackle key operations that institutions are unable to carry out themselves at the necessary scale and speed. Operations range from classifying, organizing and transporting supplies, to informing others or donating their professional experience. For example, drivers can transport people and resources where they’re needed, while lawyers and people with experience in customs and taxes may take care of paperwork and the shipping guides required to transport supplies through the country.

But all of this requires at least basic training and proper information. I’ve been a volunteer and led volunteer teams for various organizations over the years, and it’s tough work. It’s not just about recruiting people and sending them to carry boxes and write inventories. First, the very nature of volunteering is that anyone can join or leave at will, so not all volunteers will be available on demand, and their personal commitment will fluctuate; also, they need leaders who can provide clear explanations and strategies, assign them specific tasks, follow up on their progress and moderate their enthusiasm and initiative.

A volunteer who doesn’t know what’s going on, or doesn’t hear instructions, is a liability. They may inadvertently damage valuable and often irreplaceable equipment, lose or spoil supplies, misplace important documentation or simply not fulfill their assignments even when others are waiting on them. Keep in mind, chavismo just launched its own sabotage campaign to redirect potential volunteers to a sham website, keeping their personal data. Because in the machine that Hugo Chávez created, evil is a bottomless pit.

President Guaidó announced that humanitarian aid will enter the country on the 23rd, while assemblies and “humanitarian camps” will be set up this weekend.

The democratic leadership appears to be aware of these hurdles. On Tuesday, February 12th, during the mass demonstration for the Day of Youth, caretaker President Guaidó announced that humanitarian aid will enter the country on the 23rd, while assemblies and “humanitarian camps” will be set up this weekend, presumably to inform citizens about the task ahead.

There isn’t much time to get ready and the urgency is great, but the mass demonstrations and open assemblies seen since January, and previous coordinated efforts such as the plebiscite on July 16th, 2017, are evidence that the public can work together effectively toward a set goal in very short notice. In any case, despite the difficulties and limitations, I celebrate this initiative and firmly believe it’s the right course of action.

We face an enormous endeavor, and the coming weeks will require as many hands as possible. Volunteers can offer an invaluable contribution to turn this terrible situation around and ensure that more Venezuelans can tell their own stories of survival after this dictatorship comes to an end.

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