Apr 23, 2020

By John Keeble

Emergency supplies of food are being taken around to many of Cuenca’s thousands of Venezuelan refugees as lockdown rules bite harder every day on those who have lost every means to earn money and buy food.

They are part of the wider efforts to help Cuenca’s poor and vulnerable get through the weeks without access to money to buy the essentials of life.

“We are getting out what we can,” said Saxon Gotfried, of Give Refugees A Chance (Grace), which works with the Venezuelan community. “We try to give a week’s supply of rice, flour, pasta, and beans to as many people as possible. That’s not the best diet. They need fresh vegetables and fruit, but right now we are just trying to keep them alive.”

Urgent concerns include 63 refugee babies and children medically noted as being at risk of stunting. Many are suffering because their mothers’ diets are so poor they cannot feed the babies. “We urgently need to buy formula for these babies and, across the community, we need to supply diapers,” said Gotfried. “Before the coronavirus, mothers were taking diapers to the river, washing them, and reusing. Now they cannot. It costs $1,500 a month to meet these community needs and somehow we must raise the money.”

“We are getting out what we can,”

Some people are becoming so desperate for food and other essentials that they are risking breaking the law to go out to find money and supplies. “Some, including street jugglers, are coming out,” said Gotfried. “They are breaking the law because they are desperate. They need to feed themselves and their families.

“Others are going from home to home and asking for food. They are relying on the kindness of people. From my window, I can see about 15 houses. At least three have been giving food to people at their doors.”

No one is sure how many Venezuelan refugees are living in Cuenca. They could total more than 12,000 with about 400 of the homeless. Add to those figures the other migrants like Colombians, and Cuenca’s poor — it adds up to an enormous pool of misery and needs.

Grace, which targets Venezuelans but helps others too, is working with a number of organisations,  including Acción Social Municipal del Cantón Cuenca. Expat and Cuenca individuals and businesses, like Jennifer Rodriguez of Matthew Bagels Store, have been donating cash and goods. But there is never enough food and essentials to hand out and a constant need to replenish as time goes on and earlier supplies are used.

“Our help includes hundreds of food packs, which vary depending on what we are given, and we sometimes manage to include non-food items like dental hygiene kits, clothing, mattresses, cookware, warm head caps for infants, toys and school supplies,” said Gotfried.

“We are feeding as many as we can but the needs are overwhelming. This population survives off what they earn that day, and they haven’t been able to work in a month.

“Now winter is approaching and most refugees live in poor accommodation. It is getting colder, and that is troublesome. Blankets are a hard one. Two years ago Rosana Malo and Phillip Smith donated 1,000 blankets to the Venezuelan community. I have not heard of anyone intending to donate this year.”

If you would like to donate cash, click here. For goods, you can donate by calling Karla Sánchez at +593 95 920 4786 or email her at karla@giverefugeesachance.org. Large donations can be collected from the donor. Grace’s base, Castle Grace at 25-01 Guillermo Medina y Mariscal Lamar, is open to receive donations from 10 am to 12 noon on Thursdays and Fridays.