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A heart in two places: Norelis’ fight for survival


February 10, 2022 • 3 min read

Norelis is among the nearly six million Venezuelans who have been forced out of their homes by the effects of economic and political crises. She is a beneficiary of the GOAL’s Barrio Resiliente programme providing training, technical and financial assistance to vulnerable families and host communities in Colombia.

Her eyes well up with tears as Norelis Ochoa, 24, recounts her journey to Bucamaranga, Colombia from Venezuela in 2019.  

“I had no money,” she says, “I had to beg a lot to feed my son.” 

It is a journey of about 566 kilometres. Without sufficient money to fund the trip, Norelis’ was forced to walk for days in freezing temperatures, without any food.  

No return date, no legal travel documents and a one-year-old son made her journey even more difficult.  

Tired and hungry, Norelis had to let her toddler trudge for hours as they made their way across the border. 

“I crossed with a blanket, just enough to cover my son,” says a teary Norelis, recalling the coldness they endured during the journey.  

At 3,200 metres above sea level, plummeting nighttime temperatures were a huge concern for Norelis.  

Paving the way for a new life 

Unable to find work or afford basic services, Norelis’ partner made the same journey two years earlier. Leaving Norelis with his father, he hoped to pave the way for a new life in Colombia. 

“We worked but sometimes there was no food, and with a child it was very difficult,” says Norelis adding, “The economic situation in Venezuela was getting more and more complicated.” 

Norelis Ochoa sharing her story with GOAL’s Karen Diaz in Bucamaranga, Colombia recently.

As soon as her partner was able to send home some money, Norelis and her son hopped on a bus to the Colombian border town, Cucuta. That was the furthest their savings could take her. It was a further 190 kilometre walk to Bucamaranga. 

One of the largest displacement crises of the 21st century, economic crisis and political instability has pushed nearly six million Venezuelans into exile. Millions of people like Norelis have been forced from their homes due to a shortage of food and medical supplies.  

 A sense of belonging 

Two years on from her perilous journey and life is looking up for Norelis and her family. With support from GOAL, the couple has created a new home for themselves in Bucaramanga. Their three-year-old son is flourishing and they have welcomed a new one year old daughter to the family.   

GOAL teams are supporting thousands of Venezuelans in Colombian communities. Funded by USAID and BHA, local staff are providing training, technical and financial assistance to vulnerable families and host communities. 

Aside from meeting the humanitarian needs of migrants through economic integration, GOAL’s Barrio Resiliente project is promoting inclusion and fighting xenophobia in local communities. 

“I like to participate because I feel like (I am) part of the community”, Norelis says “They include me. I feel like they do not discriminate against me for being Venezuelan because sometimes it happens.” 

Far from home 

While life has improved since they fled to Colombia, Norelis admits it remains a sacrifice.

“I miss my family, my mom and my grandmother. To go to another country is difficult. Especially when you miss your family so much. But in Colombia, we have found more opportunities.” 

You can support GOAL’s work with Venezuelans families like Norelis’ with a donation today.