– July 20 2021
The Rivera’s endless journey to stability
When Eucaris (37) fled with her children from Venezuela for Brazil almost three years ago, little did she know the challenges of caring for her family in a foreign country would persist so long. She and her children are one of nearly 74 families who have received shelter and support as they transition to a new life.
Ecuaris Rivera hoped in Brazil she would find a better life for herself and her four children, Melissa (7), Daniel (6), Laura (3) and Bruno (5 months).
Instead, like many Venezuelan refugees, she found herself on the street.
“My children and I were homeless for two months,” she says bluntly while she breastfeeds her five-month-old baby, Bruno. “The most important things are food and shelter, at least I have that now.”
Today she lives at the SOS Children’s Villages shelter for Venezuelan families in the city of Sao Paulo since January. Here she receives economic support and guidance as she looks for work.
Eucaris is one of the almost four million Venezuelans who fled economic distress and violence looking for opportunities in neighbouring Brazil. The single-mother left her hometown in Venezuela, on August 2019, with her two oldest children.
They arrived in the border with Brazil and walked for a day and a half until they reached the Brazilian city of Paracaimba, where she purchased bus tickets to go to the state capital of Boa Vista, about 220 kilometres from the border. Later, Eucaris travelled back to her come country to pick up her third born, Laura (3), leaving her older three with another Venezuelan family.
When Eucaris and her children first arrived, they had nowhere to live and slept in the streets for two months. After being identified by the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, they entered a refugee shelter where Eucaris could leave her children alone, giving the two older siblings the responsibility to care for their sister.
“The hardest part is to be alone with my children and having to care for them and work,” she admits. On December last year, she gave birth to Bruno, who is now five months old.
Brazil without borders
Brazil hosts the second largest population of Venezuelan refugees, after Colombia. In total, four million Venezuelans have fled that country since 2018, with 260,000 in Brazil. Despite searching for a better life, many still face desperate living conditions, according to SOS Brazil’s Programme Director, Michele Mansor.
“These families arrive to a country with no reference or a support network,” says Mansor. “The biggest challenges for them to adapt are the language, the revalidation of their diplomas if they have higher education, and inclusion in the formal market.”
In January of this year, the Rivera family was transferred to the SOS Children’s Villages in Sao Paulo, with four other families, to give Eucaris a more proper environment for her children and new born baby.
SOS Children’s Villages Brazil has been working for four years in partnership with UNHCR in a project called Brasil Sem Fronteiras, Brazil without Borders. The four houses opened for refugees in the SOS Children’s Village have separate bedrooms and share common areas such as the living room, kitchen and laundry. These can host up to 13 families, who typically stay from three to six months, and leave when they have a stable source of income and a home.
While offering shelter and protection to Venezuelan families, the SOS team is providing guidance to access basic services, support to help them find jobs, and integrate into the community, as well as counselling and coaching on parenting skills. So far, the project has supported almost 300 Venezuelan refugees, among them 74 families and 80 children.
“The aim of Brazil withouth Borders is to empower and strengthen Venezuelan families for intercultural adaptation, and political, social and economic development for the exercise of citizenship and self-sufficiency,” says Mansor. “Our desire is to provide them with tools and support, so these families can be autonomous and have a better life in our country.”
Eucaris’ next steps
Eucaris and her children arrived with few clothes, no hygiene habits and a poor diet that endangered their health. Once they were given shelter, proper food and clothing, the SOS team started working on the mother’s parenting skills. She receives guidance from the SOS team of psychologist, educators and social workers to offer better care for her children, while providing them with access to basic services. She also gets UNHCR’s economic support of 180 euros every month.
Melissa and Daniel are currently going to school. Eucaris is looking for a job but being a single mother caring for a baby makes it difficult for her. While she has neighbours, who can sometimes help her, the SOS team is looking to build a network of single-mothers so they can support each other. She is now learning Portuguese so she has a better chance to get a job.
Meanwhile, the mother of four admits her relationship with her children has grown stronger and puts in practice everything she learns.
*Names changes to protect child’s privacy.
*Text by Alejandra Kaiser. Photo by Rodrigo Paiva.