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Mar 7, 2019

Venezuela's humanitarian crisis

Even in the shade, the heat is stifling. It wraps 43-year-old Oriana like a heavy blanket, adding to the weight of her circumstances. Her 15-year-old daughter, Joelbi, lies in a make-do hammock nearby; a group of other young boys and girls — all unrelated, all under 16 — lounge on the ground and trees around her.

One of the boys points to Oriana. That is everyone’s mom, he says.

With warmth but great sadness, Oriana gestures to the bridge and the trash and the parentless Venezuelan kids who’ve found safety with her. None of this was part of the plan.

It wasn’t long ago that Oriana had a steady job at a hospital in Venezuela, her home country. She had a house and was able to support her two children, Joelbi and her 16-year-old son, Yohan.  

When people arrive in Colombia, they often beg until they have enough money to buy coffee, bread, candies or other small items they can sell on the street. They are lucky if they earn between $2 and $5 a day, which they use to scrape by or to send back to Venezuela. For those who do get informal jobs, they are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

“We did not come here to be parasites,” says one Venezuelan migrant in Riohacha. “All we want is to be given the same rights and protections as Colombians. We want to work, but with dignity.”  

Mercy Corps has expanded its existing operations in Colombia to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelan refugees and Colombians affected by Venezuelan migrations. We've already helped more than 7,700 people since last year. 

We are providing emergency cash via prepaid debit cards to help approximately 7,000 people in 10 municipalities in Cesar and La Guajira departments, including the cities of Riohacha, Maicao and Valledupar. 

Between June and September 2018, we helped more than 2,000 Venezuelans get medicine by paying for prescriptions at local pharmacies in Riohacha, La Guajira. For hospital inpatients, in addition to paying for prescriptions, we provided items such as diapers and hygiene supplies.

In Putumayo, Cauca and Antioquia, where we already work to help vulnerable Colombians displaced by armed conflict meet their urgent needs, we are also providing emergency cash to help Venezuelan families living there. We’ve already assisted more than 1,800 Venezuelans (more than 460 families) across these three departments.  

The humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 3 million people displaced in the region. More people may flee in the coming months as conditions in the country worsen. The UN estimates there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2019.

As the situation worsens, Mercy Corps is committed to helping vulnerable Venezuelan refugees who are unsure of what the future holds. Our response is only just beginning.

Your help will allow us to do even more to support these families as they cope with the tragedy of losing their homes and livelihoods. 

Jan 24, 2019

How a playground helped Farat find her voice

Farat, 36, fled Syria with her three daughters when war closed in on their home in Homs. A Mercy Corps cash-for-work program helped her provide for her girls in Lebanon and become a leader in her community. ALL PHOTOS: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

The last time Farat saw her husband, he was going home.

Life in Homs during Syria’s war had twisted the peaceful life they knew into a series of grueling life-or-death decisions. As the sounds of gunfire inched closer, they had to decide how long they could stay. With no jobs, they had to decide how they would provide for their children. And when Farat’s husband left to find work in Lebanon, she had to decide when she would gather her three daughters—including the 4-month old baby she had just delivered—and risk the journey over the border to join him.

Farat and her daughters fled from Syria to Lebanon in 2013, part of the 1.5 million Syrians who moved there in search of safety. But like so many others, they found that safety in a new country came at the cost of the things they needed to build a life: a school for her daughters, the support of friends and family, and secure jobs that would provide for their family.

Farat’s husband had come to Lebanon as a carpenter, but the work he found wasn’t enough to provide for their family. And so with no other options, the two of them decided he should go back to Syria alone to sell their home in Homs and return with the money.

It was the last time she saw him.

“My husband thought that if he could go back to Homs to sell the house there and bring the money for his family it could improve our situation,” she says. “Unfortunately, he did not come back. He was lost.”

Five years later, Farat and her daughters—Hind, Zekra and Razane—have settled in Lebanon, where the three girls attend school and live in a quiet house in the shadow of Lebanon’s mountains. The longer they stay here, Farat says, the less her daughters will remember about the things they lost: a father, a country, and the life they had built there.

As it became clear they wouldn’t soon return home, it fell to Farat to provide for them. Farat had volunteered for a medical nonprofit in Lebanon when she heard about Mercy Corps and submitted an application for a spot in a local cash-for-work program. Soon she was attending trainings that brought Syrians and Lebanese together to nominate a local project to rehabilitate.

The group decided on a school playground. Shortly after, Farat received a call: She was being promoted to supervisor.

“I didn’t know what a supervisor meant,” she says. “I pretended that I understood, but really all I knew was I had been promoted to some extent. I called my cousin to explain it to me.”

"[The project] made me very strong," Farat says. "In Syria, I had no work experience. I had a fragile and weak personality. At the beginning of the training, they tried to get everything inside of me out and help me express myself. Then, when they asked us to present projects, they gave each of us a topic to study. When we presented our studies they were very attentive to every detail. I felt that I introduced something important."

“The work was great. There was no discrimination and everyone was treated equally. They cared about everyone and we were all satisfied and happy," she says.

Thanks to the program, Farat’s community now has a safe place to play, and Farat found a way to support her family. But the leadership training she received as supervisor benefited her in another way, she says: as a mother.

It gave her the confidence to be an example to her daughters—to talk about what they had been through together, to cope with their new life, and to remember the place they came from: just over the mountains, and a world away.

“I told my kids that Syria is the most beautiful country in the world,” she says. “It was our homeland.”

How you can help
  • Continue your support. Every single contribution helps us provide even more support to Syrian families and families recovering from disaster around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page to spread the word about the millions who need us.
  • Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help families survive, recover and rebuild.


Dec 14, 2018

The ripple effect of clean water

Noella visits with Banyere, one of the women in her social mobilization group. ALL PHOTOS: Elizabeth Dalziel for Mercy Corps

Around the world, clean drinking water is a matter of life and death.

In DRC, these life-and-death circumstances are exacerbated by other risks: violence, conflict and weak infrastructure that further threaten the most vulnerable.

That includes children under the age of 5. Lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices are the main causes of diarrhea, which is the second most common cause of mortality for young children there.

We’re working directly in communities to help change that. And women like Noella, pictured above, are instrumental in making that change.

Water Challenges in the DRC

Long-standing insecurity and violence in DRC are forcing desperate people from their homes in search of peace. Families are fleeing their traditional rural and farming areas for towns and cities where they feel safer.

Around 4.5 million people are displaced within the country. This past year, the violent situation has only worsened. This increased level of displacement — coupled with mismanagement and lack of funding for water for more people — has led to a shortage of clean water in Goma and Bukavu in eastern DRC.

In many places, when water isn’t available, it often takes hours of walking to reach a water source. And there are no guarantees that it’s clean. When water is available locally, long lines to reach the taps or wells are likely.

That’s why we’re there, in the communities that need us most, improving access to and education about water for the most vulnerable citizens of Goma and Bukavu.

Imporving the Health of Communities in the DRC

Groups of about 15 women meet all over Goma in DRC to discuss how to keep their children healthy. Noella leads this one.

Noella, a social mobilizer volunteer for Mercy Corps and mother of three, is working in Goma to provide that water education. She’s been volunteering with us for two years to reduce the number of deaths of children under the age of 5.

“[Mercy Corps training] is very important because I have seen some changes in my family in the past year,” she says. “Through the Mercy Corps training, we know how to treat water and how to get clean water. And we know different ways of keeping the place clean and we have seen some changes in the way children were easily getting affected or falling sick. Since I’m getting that training I’ve seen a reduction in the sickness of children.”

In 2016, when she started, there were more than 343 cases of children suffering from diarrhea and about 22 deaths among them. Since then, with the work of care groups like hers, the diarrhea rate in children under the age of 5 has been reduced from 10 percent in 2017 to an impressive 2 percent in July of this year.

Each volunteer who is part of Noella’s group has another 15 women that they share their learnings with.

There are approximately 3,200 volunteers in Goma and each person has 15 people in their group, totalling approximately 45,000 women across Goma.

Noella fetches water at a pump that Mercy Corps installed near her home in Goma.

“All the lessons that you've been teaching us are very important, [like] how you've taught us to wash [our] hands before starting activities like cooking,” says Banyere to Noella, who has been teaching her. “The lessons that you have been teaching us [are] bringing us peace because if there is an outbreak of cholera, if we're following the teaching of Mercy Corps we [won’t] be affected with the cholera.”

Noella showed us some of the hygiene methods she learned from our trainings, which she now shares with others: using a water container with a lid, using soap, washing plates and putting clean dishes in a new basket, discouraging using a cloth to dry dishes, and using three buckets for washing and rinsing.

Noella also visited a clinic for children with malnutrition and participates in other social mobilization activities with volunteers and local Mercy Corps team members, like showing educational films to other community members.

These activities reach additional people, mostly pregnant women and women with children under 5, who do not participate directly in Mercy Corps’ women’s groups.

“[It’s important] to learn and share with our neighbors in regards to protecting our children who are under 5 years,” says Zawadi Cecile, 36, another program participant. “It is important so that they do not fall sick because of the stress it causes, and it costs additional money.”

And that’s the value of empowering people directly affected by crises. Noella may be just one volunteer, but she is part of a larger movement that’s making waves across her community.

How you can help

Silvie Bienda, a program officer in DRC, left, walks alongside Noella as she heads to the pump to fetch water.

This year, we’ve doubled our humanitarian response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We plan to help more than half a million Congolese over the next year, making Mercy Corps one of the largest organizations working in the country.

Help us make our work go even further by donating today.

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