UNICEF Guyana through Hope Foundation gives hope to Venezuelan migrants

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service
Photo: © UNICEF GuyanaSuriname/SAbrams

Twice weekly, Venezuelan migrants and Guyanese children gather at the Hope Foundation Centre in Bartica to learn how to prepare a variety of Guyanese cuisines.

Sixteen-year-old Isabella Lopez (not her real name) felt broken with her parents’ decision approximately two years ago to migrate to Guyana at a time when their home country Venezuela was grappling with a prolonged social, economic and political crisis.

Notwithstanding a number of challenges upon arriving in Guyana, including the language barrier, culture shock, insufficient finance and bullying, Lopez, with the support of the Hope Foundation and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is gradually overcoming those challenges and now looks forward to becoming a restaurateur offering a blend of Guyanese and Venezuelan cuisines.

Speaking through an interpreter, Lopez explained that she is gradually learning the English language. For more than a year, she, along with other Venezuelan migrants, has been learning to speak English through a language programme offered through the Hope Foundation based in Bartica, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).

The programme has proven to be beneficial as she is now better able to communicate with her teachers and classmates at the Bartica Secondary School.

Meanwhile, as she pursues her dream of becoming the owner of a restaurant, Lopez, twice weekly, spends her afternoon learning to prepare traditional Guyanese foods from cook-up rice to fried rice and the Guyanese style BBQ at the Hope Foundation Centre located in Bartica.

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Hernandez (not her real name), another Venezuelan migrant, who has been living in Guyana for approximately four years, said the ‘life skills training project’ being facilitated by Hope Foundation has sparked her interest in entrepreneurship.

Executive Director of Hope Foundation, Ivor Melville said the project, officially called ‘Promoting Community Adolescent Resilience through Empowerment and Life Skills Training to vulnerable youths including Venezuelan migrants and host community members of Regions One and Seven Project’ is part of a series of projects being rolled out by the foundation in Region One (Barima-Waini) and Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) with financial and technical support from Global Affairs Canada and UNICEF.

He said the skills training programme in Bartica currently targets 10 adolescents and young adults including seven Venezuelan migrants and three Guyanese and runs for a period of three months. An earlier batch included 60 participants from Regions One and Seven.

It was explained that the programme is designed to help Venezuelan migrants gain employment and become financially independent.

Melville said while many of the Venezuelans settling in Regions One and Seven are educated, the local job market is limited. “It is very limited, so, for them, learning a skill is very important. We teach them various things such as cake making and cake decoration but also how to make things like dhal puri, things like roti, cassava ball, egg ball, and how to make Guyanese types of cake,” Melville said.

Caption: Venezuelan migrants living in Mabaruma Region 1 are among the beneficiaries of the Gardening Project. In this photo, they can be seen with their plant pots and farm tools ready to workPhoto: © UNICEFGuyanaSuriname/SAbrams

The participants are also equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge needed to effectively manage micro businesses. Melville noted that many of the migrants are gravitating to the programme, with at least two already establishing their own food businesses in Bartica – a host town. To ensure their success, the foundation provides them with utensils and equipment as well as food hampers. Some of the beneficiaries from the earlier batch had gained employment at the Baganara Island Resort.

Another component of the project included Gardening in two communities in Region One and in the town of Bartica in Region Seven. The Gardening Project saw the migrant families planting a variety of crops including celery, pepper, egg plant, pumpkin, tomatoes, and callaloo among others.

The project, Melville said, is intended to make migrants self-sufficient, and to date, the response to the programme has been overwhelming. “In Region One, in particular, where right now we have like the whole village that is coming out to the programme. And so, it is in a high demand,” the Executive Director of Hope Foundation explained.

As part of the Canada-funded project with the migrants and host communities, awareness sessions on Gender Based Violence, Sexual and Reproductive Health(SRH), among others, were held with focus on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS. Spotlight was also placed on the importance of vaccination including HPV and COVID-19 vaccines.

That programme targeted five hinterland communities in Upper Mazaruni including Jawalla, Paruima, Waramadong and Imbaimadai. It was executed between April and August 2023.

Beverly Shewram – a social worker for more than two decades, who has been volunteering her services at the Foundation – said Hope Foundation visited both schools and communities in the targeted areas for the awareness campaign on STIs and vaccination.

“In the Upper Mazaruni we spoke to them about the importance of being vaccinated because they don’t believe in vaccines and so, we educated them on the merits of taking the vaccine and after, many of them took their children to have them get the vaccine,” Shewram said.

It was also noted that in the sub-district, children at a very early age are exposed to drugs, alcohol and sex and as such, it was important to discuss issues of drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse and prevention, as well as the spread of STIs.

“Very young children are exposed so, we were working with them on how to say no and how to prevent it from happening to them, and what is the procedure, who to tell,” Shewram explained.

According to her, since the execution of the programme, there has been a decline in reports of children being involved in “sexual activities” at the dormitories in Bartica.

“Especially, in the dormitories, there were only two reported cases of children becoming involved in sexual activities after the programme. Before it was very prevalent, you would get weekly reports and you have to be there all the time. But after we started working with them and teaching them how important the body is, and the dangers of Sexually Transmitted Disease and Teenage Pregnancy, we have seen a decline,” the social worker explained.

Throughout the outreaches, the foundation also offered counselling to residents, in particular children and provided them with care packages. It was noted that though the project targeted children and adolescents, their parents, guardians and other relatives actively participate in the programme.

With support from UNICEF, Hope Foundation has engaged and assisted more than a thousand people including children and migrants just this year.

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