Text and images by Alejandra Kaiser
Over four million people have left Venezuela. The UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 25,000 unaccompanied children and youth have travelled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence and economic chaos back home.
Since August 2019, the Ecuadorian government requests a visa, which leads the migrants to take irregular and more dangerous routes to enter the country. When these children reach their destination, they have few options to continue their education, find work and a safe place to live. They must work to survive and have few possibilities to obtain a residence status. They are exceptionally vulnerable, facing the risk of exploitation and abuse.
Raul, Lucía, Pablo and Marco are trying to settle in different cities in Ecuador. SOS Children’s Villages works in partnership with the government, local and international organisations to provide services and assistance to the young people.
As part of the SOS Youth Programme for Venezuelan migrants, they receive support for their asylum application, get individualised support to integrate into the community and receive temporary cash payments. Besides supporting their emotional and financial stability, SOS Children’s Villages Ecuador also safeguards their rights to education and healthcare.
“I’ve lived in Quito since last September. My family is back in Colombia but I left because I was being tempted by acquaintances to get involved in petty crime. I knew I had to leave and have a fresh start.
“I started selling candies on the streets of Quito and met a nice local that gave me a room for free until I made some money. Now, with the temporary cash payments, I can pay him rent and start tailoring, a skill I learned from my father. I have been able to save money and buy machines, and now I have a couple of fixed clients, so I’m proud of myself for this.
“I am also finishing high school and a friend is teaching me to make tattoos. I am excited about this. I think I am discovering a new passion.
“I hope I can get permanent status in this country soon. I have experienced difficulties in my life and could have chosen to become a criminal, but I have the determination and responsibility to thrive in Quito. I see this as an adventure and I have big dreams.”
“I had to drop out of school to leave Venezuela, but I never imagined I would have to walk so much and sleep on the streets, least of all while I was pregnant. It was very extreme and I was afraid.
“Today, my boyfriend and I rent a cheap room in Ibarra with the temporary monthly cash payment. This is helping us cover the baby’s basic needs. My boyfriend sells candies on the streets and I cannot work because l have to care for my three-month-old baby. I attend positive parenting workshops to learn how to raise my girl, and I hope I can finish high school soon. I will take my baby with me to class if I have to, but finishing school is the only way to find a decent job.
“The best I can do is to love and care for my daughter. She is my motivation.”
“I arrived in Ecuador after days of walking by myself from Venezuela. The nights in the city of Tulcán are cold. I slept on the streets for four nights in a row until I heard about several organisations helping migrants.
“I have a three-year-old back home who stays with my mother. I need to find a stable job so I can send them money. I go to a friend’s barbershop and I am learning a lot, but this is not paid. I am working on a life plan with an SOS social worker. I’m going to take crash courses to finish high school since I had to drop out in Venezuela to start working. I will take courses in hairdressing and after that, I will work in a barbershop and save money to open my own.
“I came here with clear goals. I will send money to my loved ones and be a good father to my child. Once I have my own business, I will bring my mother and my child to Tulcán.”
“I came here by myself last January. I was supposed to meet my step father-in-law in Peru but when I reached Ecuador, he stopped answering the phone. I met people on my way here that I thought were friends but they robbed me and left only my ID. So, when I came to Tulcán, I had nothing and had to sleep on the streets for several nights.
“Now I am staying at a rented room SOS Ecuador is paying for. At least now I have a warm place to sleep and food. I want to start working soon. I am used to working since I was little because I grew up in the countryside. I need to finish school too so I can get a better job. I will take crash courses soon. I will also start vocational training classes. There are many trades to choose from, but I haven’t decided yet.
“I’m still a kid, but I just want to work, have my own possessions and not need anyone to fulfil my dreams.”