It's a labor of love that's now under siege

Photo: Gabriel Méndez

Solidarity Beyond Community Kitchens in Times of Persecution

The Maduro regime charged against two of the Venezuelan NGOs that have been most effective in helping vulnerable communities, Alimenta la Solidaridad and Caracas Mi Convive. This is how the people who depend on them every day feel

“We wake up every morning at 4:00 a.m. and wonder what we’re going to cook for the kids. We grieve with heavy hearts because they have declared a war against us (…) We don’t get any wage for this, we’re community workers!”

Juanita, a woman from the poor neighborhood of La Vega who runs a community kitchen right in her house, said these words during a mass in front of volunteers, mothers and fathers who participate in different community kitchens that, like hers, are sponsored by Alimenta la Solidaridad. They got together to pray and peacefully protest against the accusations of the “anti-corruption police” that froze the organization’s bank accounts on November 24th, as part of a siege that included raids to the former headquarters of the organization, and even to the house of the project’s founder and director, Roberto Patiño. All of this puts at risk the meals of 25,000 kids in a country where 97% of its population is living under food insecurity—according to the latest ENCOVI survey.

More than her words, what shook me was the way she spoke. She transmitted a deep sense of hope and conviction in the belief that Alimenta la Solidaridad will overcome this awful crisis promoted by intolerance. It took me back to March 2019, when massive blackouts happened all over the country and Juanita was very moved by the visit we did then to her community kitchen; she told us that it gave her hope knowing that we haven’t forgotten about them during such a time, and the hope we once offered her, she returned to us at a moment where there’s no access to the necessary economic resources to keep the project running. This is what Alimenta la Solidaridad means: an exchange of hope in a country of permanent crisis. 

Juanita’s spirit also reminded me of the foundational ideal that guides Alimenta La Solidaridad, Caracas Mi Convive, and Sustento, the three sister organizations currently under persecution. We believe that inside the communities most affected by the humanitarian emergency, we can find the necessary talent to respond to the pressing issues people have to face. Alimenta La Solidaridad focuses on running community kitchens for children, Caracas Mi Convive promotes violence prevention programs inside communities, and Sustento is an all-female catering service. The three of them contest the logic of what people usually think is necessary to do in times of crisis, because they speak to future generations while taking charge of the present problems. 

We believe that inside the communities most affected by the humanitarian emergency, we can find the necessary talent to respond to the pressing issues people have to face.

In Alimenta la Solidaridad, we think about the future in a country that lives “day-by-day”. We hope that, when Venezuela overcomes the food crisis, community kitchens will become centers for child development managed by the community. This is why Alimenta La Solidaridad offers more than food; it also strengthens leadership skills and provides education and psychosocial support to the kids and volunteers.

In Caracas Mi Convive, when other people see places plagued with crime, we see an opportunity to reclaim the public arenas, and the young become leading examples. We know that the problem of crime in this country is systemic and an organization can’t solve it by itself. However, by co-creating small havens without violence with the communities, we hope that these become models to inform policymakers looking to solve crime in the future.

In Sustento, we bet on female talent to become the economic providers of their families. In a country plagued with gender-based violence and where female entrepreneurs are often ignored, Sustento aims to become the first step in the career of women who later will become references of female empowerment in the areas that best fit their vocation.  

In some way, all of these things (threatened today) are dreams becoming realities. As it happened in La Vega, people all over Venezuela gathered on Sunday to pray and send a peaceful message about the importance of community kitchens. Community leaders told me that folks from different political views and religions put aside their differences and got together because their kids are receiving lunch every day from Alimenta La Solidaridad. Now, each community is finding a way to keep the project running, not knowing for how long they’ll last. I admire that coherence between ideals and actions, the way the protests embody the value of solidarity. 

I share Juanita’s grief for the kids, because I feel that a part of what I want for Venezuela is in danger. But she also reminded me that sadness in times of crisis requires action. Today I can inform as many people as possible about what’s happening inside these communities and the implications of losing the work of thousands of people who give part of their lives to build a better future for their neighbors and for Venezuela. I believe the volunteer spirit of Alimenta la Solidaridad is not only confined to the community kitchen: it’s also an idea appealing to every person who believes in helping others as an essential part of life. 

So I’m asking you to join us by raising your voice and condemn the intolerance we live in today. It’s the only defense we have. #UnidosPorLaSolidaridad