Alone in Colombia, a Venezuelan mother builds a new life

Elisa, a Venezuelan migrant to Colombia sells water and coffee in a park with her newborn child. Photo: Ana Maria Olarte/Mercy Corps

For seven days and nights, a pregnant Elisa and her child lived in a park in Colombia.

“I cried every day,” Elisa recalls. “I didn’t imagine I would ever have to live like this.”

Leaving home behind

Elisa, 33, is a mother of two and one of many Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to escape the economic collapse in Venezuela. Elisa immigrated to Colombia over a year ago with her child while pregnant with her second.

“Over there,” she says, “things were getting worse in Venezuela every day.”

Leaving everything behind in Venezuela was not an easy decision. Her four brothers still live in her home country.

“They are thinking the way I thought before — that things would get better over there,” she says. “But for me, I realized it wouldn’t. You have to work. You have to fight for yourself.”

Surviving in Colombia

When she arrived in Colombia, she had no place to stay and could not afford to rent a room.

They lived in the park.

Today, Elisa sustains herself and her two kids by selling water, coffee and cigarettes at the park from 7 in the morning to 7 at night. Before her baby was born, she’d work until midnight.

The money that Elisa makes only covers the cost of a single room where she and her kids live. Other basic needs like food and baby supplies are a constant struggle to meet.

Distributing cash, offering hope

A young woman holds her baby in colombia
Mercy Corps is meeting the urgent needs of Venezuelan migrants like Elisa on the Colombian border. ALL PHOTOS: Ana Maria Olarte/Mercy Corps

We’re distributing emergency cash to help vulnerable Venezuelans in Colombia like Elisa meet their urgent needs.

We have provided emergency cash through prepaid debit cards to help more than 8,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Providing cash helps Venezuelan migrants support themselves in the way they need it most — in an efficient, sustainable and dignified way.

Providing cash also benefits the local economy. With the influx of Venezuelan migrants to Colombia, the local economy is struggling to stay afloat. Colombia is currently hosting more than one million Venezuelans putting pressure on their already-stretched capacity to respond as the country faces ongoing volatility and its own humanitarian crisis.

Elisa learned about our cash distributions when her older child was sick and she needed to take him to the hospital. Mercy Corps provided her with the medicine that her child desperately needed.

Through the support from Mercy Corps, Elisa was also able to buy food and baby supplies like diapers.

“I left [the hospital] with medication...and things for the new baby that I would need,” says Elisa. “I was alone.”

“It’s tough,” she says through her tears. “I never thought this would happen to me. But here I am. The money that Mercy Corps provided helped me a lot.”

Building a new life

Despite the challenges Elisa faces as she tries to raise her children in Colombia, she is grateful for the friendships and support she’s received from her friends in the neighborhood.

“Here we all know each other, everybody knows everybody,” Elisa shares as she points to the nearby carts where people are selling things.

While she hopes to return to Venezuela one day, she also wants to live where her children will have the best life.

“I think about nothing but my kids,” she says.

Elisa’s story is just one of many stories of Venezuelans living in Colombia seeking a better life.

Poverty, hunger and homelessness are all a common reality that Venezuelans face, both in Venezuela and in Colombia. As the crisis continues to escalate thousands of families will continue to suffer.

Help us provide even more support to Venezuelan families and families in crisis around the world.
Ask your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help families survive, recover and rebuild.