Marianyelin Paredes (left) and Jose Gregorio (far right) prepare breakfast for two of their daughters at the shelter where they are staying in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Morgan Arnold for LWR)

Hunger drove this Venezuelan family to Peru – and you were there to greet them

  • John Rivera
  • Mar 20, 2019

Jose Gregorio and his family decided it was time to flee Venezuela when food became so hard to secure that it threatened the life of his infant daughter.

They faced a harrowing weeks-long journey – much of it on foot in blazing sun and bone-chilling rain – through the countries of Colombia and Ecuador, before reaching the threshold of Peru, which had opened its doors to refugees. They arrived hungry and exhausted, with painful sores on their feet from the long walk.

Thanks to your generosity, help was waiting for them on the other side of the border.

Jose Gregorio and Marianyelin Paredes walk with their family across the border into Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

Sent by God

Workers from a refugee outreach agency called Encuentros, a Lutheran World Relief-funded partner, met their immediate needs. They provided the family with food, shelter and help in navigating the immigration process so they could settle, at least for a time, in their new country.

"For us, they were sent by God," says Jose.

As he spoke, he held his smiling daughter, Greisyedis, in their temporary home, a shelter on the grounds of a Lutheran church in Lima. His daughter, finally able to eat enough, is looking better nourished and healthier – as are his other four children.

Critical support

Jose and his family are among the 3.5 million people who have left Venezuela since it descended into a political and economic crisis that has left essentials like food and medicine either difficult to find or too expensive to buy. More than 600,000 Venezuelans have made the 950-mile journey to the border of Peru and continued another 800 miles to find refuge in the capital city of Lima.

Venezuelan refugees are allowed to work and send their children to school in Peru, but they must fill out the right forms, present the right documentation and stand in the right lines to receive authorization. The process starts at the border, where the new arrivals receive immigration approval to enter the country. It can take up to three days to complete the process and secure transportation to the nearest town, Tumbes, about a 30-minute car ride. Encuentros staff provide assistance to the newly arrived, particularly the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and families with young children.

Jose and his family were in line at the Immigration office when they were approached by an Encuentros case worker. “They asked if all the children were ours, and whether they had eaten,” says Jose. “We told them ‘no, because we came walking.’

“They took us out of line and took us to a hotel. They paid for a week and they gave us food so we could organize ourselves to do the paperwork to be here legally,” he says. “The support has been incredible.”

Jose Gregorio at the Lutheran World Relief-supported shelter in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Morgan Arnold for LWR)

An uncertain future

In Lima, in addition to providing shelter, Jose is receiving help in applying for permission to work. Right now, he is selling caramels to motorists waiting at stoplights as his only source of income. His dream is to open a small store where he and his wife, Marianyelin can sell arepas, the Venezuelan grilled cornmeal cake stuffed with meat or cheese. His immediate goal is to make enough money to rent an apartment and make sure his children go to school. Returning to his farm in Venezuela is but a dim dream.

“I’m sure this dictatorship is going to end, but for the country to recover economically and morally will take time,” he says. “That's why we have decided to stay here for a long time, even if the dictatorship falls.

Jose Gregorio, right, chats with Betzaida Martinez, a fellow Venezuelan who is staying with her family in the same shelter.

You can help

For every family like Jose’s, there are so many more in need of help.

With your support, Lutheran World Relief is on the ground responding to this situation. In addition to working with Encuentros to reach out to families like Jose’s, Lutheran World Relief has also started a digital platform called Ven Informado to help Venezuelans know the process of migrating to Peru before they arrive.

Your gift today keeps these vital services going and allows us to respond to emerging needs quickly.

Donate today

John Rivera, Mar 20, 2019 email