Writed by Bartley D’Alfonso
Photos: Courtesy of Bartley D’Alfonso

Perhaps it was Helen Keller who said it best: “The true test of a character, is to face harsh conditions, with the determination to make them better.”  There are many of us retired expats who can weather the storm clouds of this pandemic, relying on our steady pensions and annuities to continue feeding and sheltering us. We worked long and hard to receive our entitlements, and have every right to reap their bounty. But during these times of self-isolation (to limit any exposure to becoming infected) it’s easy to miss seeing the less fortunate, frequently visible on Cuenca’s street corners begging for handouts.  Many of them are economic refugees who had no other choice but to flee from Venezuela, where the food stores are empty; the hospitals are out of medicines; hyper-inflation continues to make their currency (the Bolivar) worthless; and violence is increasing and becoming normal.


GRACE Foundation Staff

Thankfully, here in Cuenca there is a private charitable organization that collects donations to help these refugees—and many are destitute families—to get back on their feet. Created in May 2019, the GRACE Foundation (Give Refugees A ChancE) is a non-profit, public charity with an IRS tax deductible 501(c)(3) status. As explained by Karla Sánchez Arismendi, Public Relations Manager of GRACE (and herself a Venezuela refugee in 2015), “Our charity exists to help refugees get back on their feet. To do this we have tailored our help to the individual needs of each refugee or family. Along with medical and legal services, we have helped with school uniforms, bringing loved ones out of Venezuela, providing household items, food and clothing, and helping to get small family businesses started.


Nurse Dominga Pina with refugees

These services are provided on a case-by-case basis, according to their needs after a vetting process.” Karla further explained that they now have a network of 12 doctors and a psychiatrist to help meet medical and psychological needs, especially for those who suffer from the stresses associated with fleeing their country and arriving here almost penniless. These refugees include skilled, professionals such as physicians, psychologists, lawyers, dentists, engineers, social workers, and journalists. According to Saxon Gotfried, Founder/Chairman of the Board of GRACE, to date “Over six hundred patients have received free medical care and prescriptions; five thousand hungry mouths have been fed; three hundred cold bodies clothed; forty job seekers have become employed; sixty babies covered with free diapers and given infant formulas; and fifteen lives safely evacuated and rescued from imminent harm in Venezuela.”  He said that GRACE is founded upon the business model promulgated by the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, Muhammad Yunus, who created economic and social development projects to aid in raising societies out of poverty while advancing democracy and protecting human rights.


Articles of donated clothing–free to refugees

Should anyone stereotype these refugees as being too lazy to find any work, it is noteworthy that many of them brought their professional skills and careers into Ecuador. These include medical doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, attorneys, psychiatrists, artists, pharmacists, business managers, government administrators, linguists, chefs, and repairmen. All are eager and willing to apply their individual expertise to benefit their new homeland, and only ask to be given such a chance. Many such persons have received grants from GRACE to rebuild their lives and succeed with integrating as new neighbors into our city.

With their motto “Love Without Limits or Discrimination,” the foundation’s humanitarian efforts succeed only upon the gracious donations of the Cuenca citizens.  To help their efforts, you may donate thru their website at:
https://giverefugeesachance.org/donate, or to their location (see below).