Since the 2015 economic crisis in Venezuela, Colombia has hosted approximately 1.7 million Venezuelans, representing more than 37% of the approximately 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over half of the Venezuelan population living in Colombia does not have a regular residence permit, which excludes them from essential services, such as the right to protection and assistance. In fact, many refugees arrive in Colombia illegally and find themselves without a place to sleep, limiting the hours of rest per day, preventing the search for a job, and access to education and housing. Without safe housing, refugees are exposed to other risks such as the recruitment of children into gangs or armed groups, sexual violence, gender-based violence, and human trafficking. Venezuelan women are particularly exposed to different types of violence, including sexual, economic, and labour exploitation. Lacking their residence permit, they live in fear of being expelled from the country, and consequently do not report to the authorities.
Alejandra’s story: “mother, fighter, warrior” *
During the month of March which includes International Women’s Day (March 8), we want to share with you the story of Alejandra, a young Venezuelan woman who emigrated to Colombia with her five children in search of a better future.
After arriving in Colombia, Alejandra started a small business selling arepas and coffee. However, a lack of a stable job and being unable to afford to pay the costs of rent, food and other expenses for her children meant that Alejandra found herself alone, at an increased risk of homelessness. During the pandemic, the Daughters of Charity in Cali and good-hearted people, helped her manage these expenses by guaranteeing her temporary housing.
Sister Luz, Daughter of Charity based in Cali, still remembers when she met Alejandra for the first time: ‘[…] Alejandra was alone with her children, tired and hungry, with only one mattress and four bags without any place to stay…’.
The Daughters of Charity wanted to support Alejandra’s dream to be independent and have a home for her children. They knocked on several doors locally and internationally, and one of the positive responses came from the “13 Houses” Campaign. The project – thanks to the funds collected by the Sisters and the contribution of the Solidarity Fund – saw the purchase of a new house for Alejandra.
The project started in December 2020, and overcame several challenges in its development. For example, water infiltration and other maintenance work was needed in the house. Alejandra’s residence documents also needed to be regularized, and there was some bureaucracy linked to ensuring the title of the house was in her name.
Today, thanks to the support of the Daughters of Charity, Alejandra and her children have a new home where they can start their lives again with dignity. The children have gone back to education and Alejandra maintains her small business.
Sr. Luz, “13 Houses” Project Coordinator said: ‘Alejandra is a mother, a fighter, a warrior, with immense faith and a great desire to help her children get ahead’.
Thank you to everyone who made this project and this wonderful dream possible, I don’t know how to express my gratitude. Thank you because I now have a happy and dignified place to stay.
We thank God, the Daughters of Charity, Alejandra and her children and all those who made this project possible. We pray that together we can end homelessness, one house at a time!
* Name has been changed due to privacy.
** Photo by Jessika Arraes, free to use on Pexels.
 UNHCR, 2021: https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2021/2/60214cf74/unhcr-iom-welcome-colombias-decision-regularize-venezuelan-refugees-migrants.html
 Same as above
 NRC, 2021: https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2021/four-things-you-should-know-about-venezuelans-in-colombia/
 AlJazeera, 2018: https://www.aljazeera.com/gallery/2018/7/29/the-truth-is-we-had-to-leave-fleeing-venezuela-for-colombia