Feb 17, 2021

What legal status means for Venezuelans in Colombia

Last week, President Duque of Colombia announced that each and every Venezuelan living in Colombia will be granted protective status by the government. This is a huge breakthrough for the 1.7 million migrants living here today. It is also a historic moment of recognition for Venezuelans, who are currently the world’s second largest displaced group.

As inflation and unrest mounted in neighboring Venezuela, entire communities were forced to leave their homes. Many walked across the border to Colombia, where only 40% held legal status. This posed a major barrier to accessing even basic social services and kept legal employment out of reach. IsraAID is one organization among many working to fill these gaps and ensure that communities are able to build a better future for themselves, but collaboration between public, private, and non-profit organizations is essential to truly provide the support that is needed.

This influx of new arrivals exacerbated ongoing challenges in Colombia. The country has an unemployment rate in the double digits, which increased dramatically during the pandemic. Limited resources in education, in health care, and in other social services buoyed xenophobia. People crossing the border arrive with serious medical concerns including high rates of malnutrition, while also coping with the emotional stress of leaving their home and rebuilding their lives.

This historic announcement is a gamechanger for our daily work here in Barranquilla, where our teams provide education services, psychosocial support, and livelihood opportunities for these communities. One major issue we faced previously was in providing job training for new arrivals: 60% of Venezuelans did not have the right to work legally. In light of this, we could only provide employment support for the minority who did hold work permits. This often left out those most vulnerable.

It may also affect the composition of our staff team itself. Employing members of displaced communities is a key part of IsraAID’s approach. Now, with legal status available to all Venezuelans, we may be able to hire more Venezuelan staff members than we would have before.

Another example is in education. Our Child Friendly Spaces have been operating for close to two years now, providing a transitionary framework for children before they start in Colombian schools. Previously, children who did not have legal documentation were not eligible for public school. While there were many success stories of overcoming this bureaucratic challenge—and we are incredibly proud of the 85% of our students who did start in public schools—there were always going to be children that would never be able to move on from our program.

The role of our Child Friendly Spaces is now more important than ever. In addition to the legal barrier facing Venezuelan children, enrolling in the public school system requires proof of previous grade completion. Many children from Venezuela were out of the formal education system for multiple years, which created a significant academic gap. Our Child Friendly Spaces’ targeted curriculum streamlines their preparation for the public school system. Now that all children will be legally eligible to enroll, our academic services are even more critical, and will be able to support even more children.

While this announcement will help to push forward integration, additional support is needed to leverage the immense potential it holds. Our teams are preparing to launch awareness raising campaigns to reach currently undocumented Venezuelans and help them step by step through the process to gain legal protection.

The other enormous challenge ahead of us is addressing the social and cultural aspects of this change. While legal integration is confirmed, social integration is not. Combating xenophobia and promoting diversity is critical in this moment—to build a better future for all in our communities. Now that Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Colombia have been granted legal status, this work comes next. We at IsraAID Colombia are excited to play our part.


Feb 17, 2021

Why we're always thinking about the next hurricane

Guatemala Country Director Jaime Rhemrev lead IsraAID’s emergency response mission in Alta Verapaz, among the areas impacted by Storm Eta and Hurricane Iota in November. Below is an update from during the response.

It’s now been two weeks since we launched our emergency response mission in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. This is one of the regions most severely impacted by Storm Eta and Hurricane Iota, which brought with them torrential rains that lasted more than a week. Humanitarian aid efforts have been extremely difficult due to damaged and impassable roads caused by flooding and landslides — not to mention the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which complicates it all.

Over 500,000 Guatemalans have been affected across the country, including tens of thousands who have been evacuated to temporary shelters. In these spaces, it’s extremely difficult to curb the spread of Coronavirus, especially due to the rudimentary sanitation and hygiene resources available to the families living in these churches, schools, and community centers.

Even before these storms hit the area, the communities in Alta Verapaz were facing immense challenges and lacked resources to address them. For example, across the entire department, there are only 8 psychologists and not a single psychiatrist. 50% of Guatemalan children are malnourished — with these numbers expected to rise significantly in the coming months due to the immense crop damage caused by the storms. Access to safe water is extremely tenuous, as many of the rainwater harvesting systems utilized by the community (70% of whom live in rural areas, and are therefore less likely to be connected to water infrastructure) were severely ravaged by the storm. The large bodies of stagnant water created by the flooding bring with them high risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, but more than 80 of the health centers across Alta Verapaz were either damaged or entirely destroyed.

As an organization, IsraAID’s approach is to always go into any emergency response with our Disaster Risk Reduction “goggles” on. This means that we are always thinking ahead toward the potential for the next crisis, for the next hurricane, the next earthquake. So, when we rebuild the rainwater harvesting device, or the health center’s roof, or provide training for local social workers to administer Psychological First Aid, the main question is: how can we ensure that communities are better equipped to respond next time this happens?

In light of climate change, and the extremely high-risk factors facing Guatemala (such as many active volcanoes), it’s essential that we always take Disaster Risk Reduction into account.

Over the last weeks, I’ve seen immense awareness among the local communities here of this concept. 94% of Alta Verapaz’ population are indigenous, with their own unique language and culture. These groups have unfortunately faced decades of discrimination, with limited services available. However, what we’ve learned while being here is the natural propensity for Disaster Risk Reduction efforts that this community holds.

As we surveyed one community that had been buried by a landslide, the community members were already reflecting on what happened. They kept repeating that they “did not take care of nature.” They were asking themselves and each other what they could have done better. They were thinking forward about what needed to happen.

This is the first step of Disaster Risk Reduction: reflecting and understanding what went wrong, and what can be done to head off future crises by preparing, making plans, sharing information, and learning from one another.

But this can only be done when communities are committed to the process. Here, we don’t foresee that being an issue. We are excited to launch our partnership with these communities.

This type of reflection, of forward thought, of strategic thinking not only about the present needs, but also about how to truly put the future first is exactly why we’re here, and why we’ll stay here, helping to cultivate a culture of emergency preparedness, aiming to mitigate any future events and stymie the potential harm they may cause.

With your support, we were able to prioritize the future. Thank you.


Feb 17, 2021

Hygiene in Schools

As children returned to primary schools for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed education centers, IsraAID donated essential hygiene items to provide a "Healthy Return to School."

Together with the Ministry of Education, 243 soap dispensers, more than 2500 liters of antibacterial soap, and hundreds of reusable face masks were distributed, reaching 22 Early-Childhood Development centers and over 50 primary schools and across the island. Due to the long-term damage caused by Hurricane Maria, there are limited hygiene and sanitation facilities in some schools, making these distributions even more vital. 

The demand for cleaning supplies in Dominica tripled since the outbreak of the virus. With donations from one of our partners, we were able to fulfill some of that need to provide a safe environment for children to receive their education.

This is a part of IsraAid’s continued support of the Ministry of Education. One of our great pillars and components of our work here in Dominica is working closely with the education system, primarily with the Ministry, to do any efforts the Ministry sees fit and appropriate.

We are committed to staying in Dominica until at least 2024 which is a great opportunity for us to continue the relationship into the coming years in order to continue to build and strengthen resilience and do more control work on disaster risk management, reduction and readiness, both physical and mental.

With your continued support, we're able to provide primary school children with a safe return to school. Thank you. 

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