Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia

by IsraAID
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia
Supporting New Arrivals from Venezuela to Colombia

IsraAID first arrived in Colombia in 2019 to support over a million displaced Venezuelans and has remained since, provide livelihoods, protection, medical, and educational opportunities for Venezuelans and host communities.

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.

The country has an unemployment rate in the double digits, which increased dramatically during the pandemic. IsraAID's livelihoods program in Colombia is a six-week course providing individuals from Venezuelan migrant and Colombia host communities with training in leadership, communication, decision making, labor rights, marketing, and more.

The program offers two tracks: one to help people find employment, and the other to train new or existing business owners.


Mildred is a young Venezuelan migrant with eight years of experience in the preparation of fast foods and frozen food products. After market research, she decided to start a company that produces and distributes these types of products.

Mildred's business, "Filipenses 4:13" is one of the first businesses to come from IsraAID Colombia's Livelihoods Program, specifically from the "Business Strengthening' track. With the support of seed capital, she invested in a freezer, digital scale, steel work table, kitchen utensils and raw baking materials to make her products. She sells her products in local stores and to her neighbors.

From this business, her family now have two income streams. During follow-up visits, it is clear how motivated Mildred is. She still has many goals to meet, including finishing the construction of the family house: “and now with this opportunity I know I can achieve it”, says Mildred.


“I am very grateful for the program because it has allowed me to fulfill my dreams”.

Jefferson is a young Venezuelan migrant, who came to Colombia for better job opportunities. He wanted to open his own motorcycle repair shop but he did not have the necessary equipment and tools to do so. He was one of the first participants of IsraAID Colombia's Livelihood Program, receiving seed capital to buy the necessary equipment for his venture.

Not only did he open a new business, but he also took another big risk by moving his home to be nearer customers. The risks paid off, and he is now a successful entrepreneur, having expanded beyond repairs, and he provides employment opportunities for other young Venezuelan migrants.

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IsraAID has been operating in Barranquilla, Colombia since 2019. Our programs in Colombia provide a holistic response to the acute needs of the mixed migrant communities in the area, focusing specifically on the protection and psychosocial needs of the communities living in Soledad and Barranquilla.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities in Colombia have been coping with lockdowns and their consequences: rising rates of gender-based violence, increasing education gaps, on and off lockdowns, and of course, the stress and instability brought on by each of these. In addition, the Barranquilla area was hit by Hurricane Iota in November 2020, and the legal status of many Venezuelans in Colombia was changed drastically in a landmark decision in February, giving them special protective status.

In light of these new and shifting needs, IsraAID established COVID-19 call centers to provide remote information and support. The call center provided a variety of COVID-related services for over 2,000 beneficiaries in the last year. Community members are able to contact the call center through Whatsapp, or through direct phone calls with operators.

IsraAID provided training for the operators, who offered psychosocial support, information on preventing the transmission on COVID-19, up-to-date clarifications about the local guidelines and lockdowns, and referrals to partner organizations in the area who could provide direct assistance with food, shelter, protection, employment, and cash-based assistance. This support is critical for these mixed migrant communities, as they often do not have access to other sources of information and are in urgent need of support to cope with the current circumstances.

Over the last months, IsraAID has recognized a dearth in our operational capacity and began to look for simple solutions that could help the team of operators better track the various data managed by the call center. This includes:

  • The caller’s demographic information – used only for monitoring purposes;
  • The specific services requested by the caller;
  • The date and time of the call;
  • Specific follow up needs per call, and when follow up needs to occur;
  • Various referral services available, including their mechanisms for connecting them with our callers.

IsraAID, in partnership with, an Israeli company offering their online platform and their programmer’s hours in-kind to organizations working on COVID-19 support, is now building an integrated system that will map and offer this information at the click of a button! This process is ongoing and will provide extremely valuable support with tracking, monitoring, follow-up, and referral support for the call center.


Story of Impact

The Nava Aguaran Family arrived in Colombia from Venezuela a little over two years ago. The household is an extended family, with 2 adults and 7 children who have been struggling severely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The adults have had a difficult time making ends meet, and the family has been forced to live day to day, doing their best.

A member of the family got in touch with our call center and spoke with one of our operators and shared that the family was at risk of eviction. IsraAID’s operator was able to support the family’s needs, connecting them with another local actor through the referral pathway, who was able to cover the family’s rent for six months. This financial aid not only took care of the immediate need, but also allowed the family to look forward, and with a break from the stress of making rent, they were able to establish a micro business and start to work toward financial stability.

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In February, 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. 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.


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On November 16, 2020, Hurricane Iota swept across the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Heavy rainfall, landslides and flooding impacted an estimated 5.2 million people in the region.

In the Atlantico Department, where IsraAID Colombia was already active, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed. In nearby Cartagena, some 155,000 people were affected, with homes destroyed by overwhelming flooding that affected 70% of the area. Both of these areas are highly populated by mixed migrants and refugees from neighboring Venezuela. These individuals were extremely vulnerable preceding Hurricane Iota, due to limited access to medical, nutritional, educational, and livelihood opportunities in Colombia as well as in Venezuela.

In a country that has suffered over 36,000 deaths from COVID-19, the inability to socially distance in shelters were a major concern. Additional risks include the spread of other diseases, lack of hygiene and sanitation items, mental health, and protection of vulnerable groups, such as women and children. Since 2015, over 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees have left their homes for Colombia.

IsraAID Colombia was among the first NGOs on the ground responding to urgent needs, leveraging our ongoing activities and network of partners in the affected areas.



In Barranquilla, the IsraAID team reached 700 beneficiaries in urgent need of immediate support due to extreme flooding, focusing on the mixed migrant community. The team distributed hundreds of household hygiene kits with basic items such as cleaning supplies, masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, soap, and more. Distributions took place in La Playa community and in the Zenú indigenous community.



70% of the city of Cartagena was impacted by heavy rainfall, landslides and flooding, with some 150,000 people affected. Communities were forced to evacuate into makeshifts emergency shelters, which can further exacerbate the daily protection challenges impacting vulnerable groups, such as women and children.

IsraAID visited multiple shelters to assess the needs of the displaced people currently living in them. The team distributed hygiene kits and urgent non-food items, and administered psychological first aid to minimize potential trauma-based mental health issues. This includes highly vulnerable communities, such as those from indigenous groups and mixed migrants from Venezuela.

The team is using public libraries to provide child protection services and activities through their established 'Child Friendly Space' model. These provide safe spaces where currently out of school students from mixed migrants communities can receive protection, education, and nutrition services while preparing them for their entry into and official educational institution. 


La Guajira

IsraAID launched a water desalination project in La Guajira's capital Riohacha, an area dominated by remote communities, primarily mixed migrants. Communities in La Guajira suffer from severe inaccess to safe water, which was further exacerbated by Hurricane Iota. When completed, this will provide 250 people with potable water.


Efforts are ongoing.


Thank you for your support to this new emergency, especially during the pandemic.

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Due to political unrest and rampant inflation, millions of Venezuelans have fled their country over the past few years. Many Venezuelans left for bordering Colombia, thousands of people entering every day. IsraAID's Emergency Response Team arrived in Colombia in May 2019, assessing the needs and distributing relief items to newly-arrived Venezuelan refugees, as well as Colombian returnees.

To minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Colombia, formal education facilities are to remain closed until at least January 2021. For many of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrant and Colombia returnee children, this exacerbates an already long period out of school, increasing the academic gap they face.

IsraAID Colombia’s Child Friendly Space "Los Guacamayos" in Soledad received formal permission from local authorities to reopen one of its spaces, enabling us to provide education support for children not integrated into the main school system. To allow the children to safely attend their classes, a new schedule has been created.  Groups of five children will be able to attend 40-minute educational and psychosocial sessions twice a week. Between each session the staff will spend 20 minutes disinfecting the chairs, tables, and educational materials, including tablets, ensuring that the CFS remains a safe space for children to continue their education. Before entering the building, each child will have their temperature checked. They will also have frequent breaks to wash their hands, and a tutor will be present to instruct the children on safe handwashing practices.

The regular sessions at the CFS will be coupled with in-center and at-home remote math programming provided in partnership with Israeli start-up Mathika, as part of IsraAID’s innovation piloting strategy. Mathika is an EdTech startup developing a web-based and mobile educational application to teach Mathematics. With Mathika, children from 5 to 13 years old can learn Math by themselves by using video clips, games, and tools. The main emphasis is the ability to learn math without a written language, without the teacher’s supervision and putting the realms of the learning in the learners' hands. As a result, it is teaching children to take responsibility for their learning and for their life. Children see the world without limitations, and even if reality is not such, by giving kids the right tools, they can thrive and succeed.

It is also expected that IsraAID Colombia will be able to reopen the CFS “La Playa” in Barranquilla in October with the same protocol used in reopening the “Los Guacamayos” CFS.

Thank you for your continued support during the pandemic.

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Organization Information


Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IsraAID
Project Leader:
Molly Bernstein
Tel Aviv , Merkaz Israel
$29,644 raised of $99,999 goal
147 donations
$70,355 to go
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