"Coming here was very difficult because I had to leave my family, my friends, my home behind… Everything, to help my family," Norbelis says holding her one-year-old son Jorge.
Norbelis is among the two million Venezuelans who have fled to Colombia in recent years to escape violence and economic insecurity. The economic collapse has left families like Norbelis’ struggling for work, food, medicine, and basic services.
Norbelis was studying Industrial Management in Maracaibo State before the crisis hit Venezuela. Forced to abandon her hopes and dreams, she put the needs of her family first when she moved to Colombia.
Starting a new life in Colombia
Norbelis father was the first member of their family to seek out a new life in Colombia.
“My Dad started out on his own, he came to work as a bricklayer or whatever he could do to earn money. He used to send us money, but the money devalued a lot and was no longer helpful for us, so I came to work and help my sister and my mother,” Norbelis says.
After making the selfless decision to join her father in Colombia, Norbelis struggled to find work across the border. Living conditions in her home were also challenging, “We had to buy water, there was no electricity, we had no gas cylinder or gas, so we cooked with firewood. It was hard for me because I was not used to it and had to learn all that here,” Norbelis says.
She was relieved to finally find a job as a nanny but was bullied and mistreated in her workplace. Like many Venezuelans in Colombia, a lack of legal residency left Norbelis open to exploitation and discrimination.
“Coming, emigrating and working is not easy. The first days of work were difficult. I started working as a nanny, but I suffered mistreatment and insults until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to leave the job.”
“I looked for another job and it also went badly…” Norbelis says before pausing with tears welling up in her eyes, “my grandmother passed away and I couldn’t go to the funeral because I was out of work.”
Looking forward with optimism
Many would struggle to survive such challenging circumstances. Thankfully, Norbelis has found strength in her family.
“Things have been so hard but my son is a blessing. It may be a gift from God, or destiny, I don’t know. But I still thank God that I survived everything I have lived through.”
While Norbelis will be far from home this Christmas, she’s relieved to be reunited with her mother and sister have finally joined her in Colombia. She has also found love in her new home.
“Together, we struggle to get ahead,” Norbelis says of her partner, father to her newborn son. While he works a few hours’ drive away in Cartargena, his support has helped guide her through dark times.
Norbelis life has further improved since she met GOAL’s team in Colombia. She now participates in GOAL’s local Crafts for Rescue workshops. With support from USAID and Tierra de Hombres, the project is helping to empower local communities and improve employment prospects for participants like Norbelis.
“I was introduced to GOAL who taught me how to weave and sow. When they came to the Potrerito Playa community I went to their trainings and absorbed all the information they gave.”
After finishing her training with GOAL, Norbelis hopes to earn a living making hammocks to sell at the local market. To earn enough money to provide for her family.
“I’m still a little slow. But soon I will learn to make hammocks. I started to learn little by little and now, thank God, I know how to do it,” Norbelis says with a smile on her face.
You can help support families like Norbelis’ far from home this Christmas with a donation today.