More than 2 million people have fled the once-prosperous Venezuela due to a political and economic crisis that has resulted in record inflation rates and severe food and medicine shortages.
Most have traveled to neighboring countries in Latin America. About 250,000 Venezuelans are staying in Ecuador, seeking the food and medical attention that they can no longer get in Venezuela.
Many Venezuelans who arrive in Ecuador come hungry and dehydrated, carrying only the clothes on their backs. Often, they have spent everything on transportation across Colombia.
A THOUSAND REASONS FOR LEAVING
For Jasmin (pictured below left), a victim of domestic violence and a single mother of three, Venezuela’s collapsing economy and lack of jobs made it too difficult to support her family.
She traveled to Ecuador alone before sending for her children and elderly mother.
Now, she rents a small room for the entire family on the outskirts of town. Monthly food vouchers from USAID and the UN World Food Program (WFP) help her feed her family.
The vouchers function like prepaid debit cards, allowing Jasmin to buy nutritious food from local grocery stores in Ecuador. These vouchers not only help feed Jasmin’s family, but also have a positive economic impact for local businesses in Ecuador.
Despite these hardships and missing the family she left behind in Venezuela, Jasmin remains hopeful that she can make a new life for her children in Ecuador.
STRUGGLING TO AFFORD A PLACE TO LIVE
Unlike other massive migration crises elsewhere in the world, most Venezuelans who have fled to Ecuador are not living in tent camps. Instead, families are spread across towns and cities, in some cases sharing small rooms with others to afford rent.
Esmeralda (pictured below left with her 2-month-old grandchild) left Venezuela with her daughter and two young grandchildren.
The family of four shares a corner of an apartment loaned for free from a friendly Ecuadorian family. While Esmeralda is grateful for the help, she’s worried where they will live when the Ecuadorian family finds a paying renter for the apartment.
Her family relies on WFP-provided food vouchers to be able to buy enough nutritious food to feed the two grandchildren, whom Esmeralda takes care of at home.
ADAPTING TO A NEW ENVIRONMENT
Danny and his partner, Luzmila (pictured below, on the far right), left Venezuela to escape the collapsing economy and shortages of food and medicine. Only 18 years old, Luzmila is due to give birth in two months.
In Ecuador, Danny and Luzmila share a room with seven other Venezuelans. To make matters worse, Danny was recently hit by a car, breaking several fingers and injuring his shoulder.
The couple use WFP-provided food vouchers and appreciate the training WFP provides to help them identify and prepare nourishing food — such as quinoa — to ensure they’re getting the right nutrients.
LEAVING A LIFE BEHIND
Alexandra and her mother Claudia (pictured below) arrived in Ecuador in 2017 with next to nothing.
“You leave your country with nothing, a bag and a sweater,” Claudia said. For her mother, deciding to leave Venezuela was an excruciating decision.
“I was a professional in Venezuela; a public accountant,” Claudia said. “I had a car and a house. I left my whole family there. I miss my mother most.”
Like her mother, Alexandra is committed to making a new life in Ecuador with her newborn daughter Rocio.
As Venezuelans continue to flee deteriorating conditions in Venezuela, USAID will continue to support host governments in the region and international humanitarian organizations — such as WFP — to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to those who need it the most.
ABOUT THIS STORY
With USAID support, the UN World Food Program (WFP) works with NGOs to identify vulnerable Venezuelans — such as pregnant women, single mothers with young children, the elderly and the disabled — who have fled their country and traveled to Ecuador. WFP provides Venezuelans with monthly food vouchers, which can be used to buy products from local Ecuadorian shopkeepers, producers, and farmers — helping support the local economy.
To receive food vouchers, Venezuelans must attend WFP-led trainings that teach tips on good nutrition, maintaining a diverse diet, understanding nutritional labels and preparing local foods. The WFP trainings take place in a large classroom environment and people are encouraged to ask questions and actively participate in the training.
In addition to Venezuelans, Colombians fleeing violence in their own country and vulnerable Ecuadorian host communities also participate in the WFP program.
In partnership with host country governments and international organizations, USAID has provided more than $46 million to date in humanitarian assistance to meet the most urgent needs of people affected by the crisis in Venezuela.