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Supporting Venezuelan Refugees in Colombia: Ana and Carlito’s Story


October 6, 2023 • 3 min read

Ana and Carlito’s story is all too familiar. The couple are among the two million Venezuelans who have fled to neighbouring Colombia in recent years to escape violence and economic insecurity. An economic collapse that has left families like Ana’s struggling for work, food, medicine, and basic services.

Humble Beginnings

After working for many years to purchase their own home, Ana and Carlito Uriana found themselves in an increasingly unsustainable situation in their hometown of Machiques de Perijá.

“During our time in Venezuela, we spent most of our days on the farm, where we were paid well. Eventually, this allowed us to purchase our own small house, and we lived comfortably there,” Ana says.

Unfortunately, due to political violence, the family lost their small farm and had to contend with soaring food prices, hunger, and a deteriorating healthcare system. These challenges placed their young family in significant jeopardy.

“Earning money was difficult and went too quickly. Healthcare declined, with hospitals providing less support than before,” Ana says.

Ana with her 6-year-old daughter Mariana

A Painful Decision

Faced with no other choice, Ana and Carlito made the difficult decision to leave their home in search of safety and the hope for a better life across the border in Colombia. Following a pattern seen in many migrant families, Ana left first to find a stable place to live in the coastal city of Riohacha. Once Ana was settled, Carlito joined her with their 9-year-old son Luis and 6-year-old daughter Mariana.

UN agencies estimate that seven million Venezuelans have been driven from their homes in recent years. Riohacha alone has absorbed nearly 50,000 refugees. They now make up a quarter of the local population.

While Ana and Carlito found safe haven in Riohacha, finding work was a huge challenge.

“It was difficult when we arrived. It’s not easy to get a job,” Carlito says.

“Without work, sometimes I wondered what I could give the children. But then GOAL helped us with handcraft and fishing training. Little by little, I learned and now, thank God, we earn enough to provide for our children,” Carlito adds.

Building a Brighter Future

GOAL teams have been working on the ground supporting local communities in the area since 2019. A centrepiece of that response is the Barrio Resiliente (Resilient Neighborhoods) program, developed in partnership with USAID and Terre des Hommes. It’s a comprehensive approach to reducing risk to vulnerable refugees and host communities through skills training and economic development initiatives, among others.

One programme component is Artesanías para el Rescate (Artisans to the Rescue), which offers training in weaving handbags and backpacks in the traditional style of the local Wayuu indigenous community. Another component provides training and equipment for fishing.

Carlito shows his 6-year-old son Luis how to knit

Ana and Carlito are taking full advantage of both.

Before fleeing to Colombia, Carlito worked as a farmer. “I didn’t know anything about fishing, but neighbours from another community taught me. Slowly, I learned. Now, thanks to the Lord, we earn a little money for our children,” he says.

“I hope GOAL continue to support us with grants and training as tools like the crab pot help and allow us to move forward,” Carlito adds.

Meanwhile, Ana remains steadfast in her determination for a better life. She weaves tirelessly almost every day, with Carlito helping out when he’s not fishing. Their motivation comes from the desire to provide for their children. A desire to improve their home and create a better life for their family.

Your support this Jersey Day can help families and families like Ana and Carlito. Join us this October 13th.

Carlito and Luis dry out the fishing nets