Humanitarian Catastrophe in Gaza


Photos: The Journey Venezuela’s Mothers Endure

More than 6 million Venezuelans have migrated from their country due to years of humanitarian crisis. Among them are large numbers of pregnant women and mothers, many of whom have made the grueling trip alone. See how Project HOPE is providing care, and community, across the border in Colombia.

Yolanda knows where she’s going. What she doesn’t know is how she’ll get there. 

Just days ago, the mother of three lost her own mom back home in Venezuela. Together with her 78-year-old father, who is blind, they buried her near their home. Then they gathered her three children, left everything behind them, and made a decision more than 6 million other Venezuelans made before them: they would leave home and migrate for good. 

Since 2015, the mass migration of Venezuelans has been one of the largest displacement crises in the world. Some are fleeing violence; others, economic collapse or insecurity. For Yolanda, daily life had become untenable. Everything had become too expensive, from the food they ate to the clothes they wore. With her mother gone and no one able to care for her father, she was unable to work or provide for her kids. The only way to survive was to make the devastating choice to leave.  

The vast majority of Venezuela’s migrants and refugees have relocated to other countries in Latin America or the Caribbean, including more than 2 million who are living in Colombia. The influx has strained Colombia’s local health systems, especially near the border in cities like Cúcuta. But for Yolanda, and so many others like her, that health care is absolutely essential, because in Venezuela it was either too expensive, insufficient, or nonexistent. 

At a hospital supported by Project HOPE, Yolanda enters with her three children and elderly father, Carlos, for doctor visits after crossing the border. Their plan, she says, is to live with her sister in Cali. But Cali is 600 miles away, on the other side of Colombia, and an entire country of unknowns still lies before them.

a family walking down a hallway wearing masks
Yolanda, her daughter, and father visit Jorge Cristo Sahium Hospital, which Project HOPE supports in Villa del Rosario. The doctor visit was one of the family’s first stops after crossing the border into Colombia. All photos by Marie Arago for Project HOPE, 2022.
a boy laying across blue chairs
Yolanda’s 9-year-old son, Carlito, rests after arriving in Colombia days before. For many migrants, the journey out of Venezuela involves days of walking, hitchhiking, or riding buses until they reach the border. In Colombia, Yolanda’s family still faced hundreds of miles to go.
elderly man gets his height checked by medical staff in scrubs.
Yolanda’s father, Carlos, who is blind, receives medical attention at Jorge Cristo Sahium Hospital days after losing his wife in Venezuela. Project HOPE has helped hospitals near the Colombia-Venezuela border meet the increase in Venezuelan patients by providing health care workers, equipment, and essential medical supplies.
a woman and child close up. The woman is looking and smiling at the child while the child is looking at the camera
Yolanda and her 2-year-old daughter, Julieta. “The main problems we faced in Venezuela were that we didn’t have enough food,” she says. “We didn’t have clothes. We were completely alone and didn’t have any help. Even if you have money, you can’t buy things because things are very expensive.”
a family sits around a bed in a hotel reading books and coloring
Yolanda and a close friend are caring for her kids at a hotel in Cúcuta until they have enough money to travel to Cali. “I want to get a new job,” she says. “I want my kids to get an education. But mainly I want someone who can take care of my father. He doesn’t have anyone who can care for him. I want a more stable situation.”
An elderly set of hands holds onto younger hands in this close-up shot.
Carlos, 78, left his home after burying his wife in Venezuela. “I never would have thought I would have to leave Venezuela,” he says. “I’m not the type of man that would leave my country.”

Years of migration have pushed some of Colombia’s hospitals to the limit. The need is especially acute inside maternity wards, where many pregnant Venezuelan women arrive having gone months with no prenatal care. Some are as young as 14, and their high-risk pregnancies require extra attention from staff. Often, they have made the journey alone. Sexual violence is common among migrants, especially for women who take unofficial border crossings. Many of the women who cross the border come over for doctor visits or to deliver their babies in Cúcuta’s hospitals before returning back home to Venezuela. But some, like Yolanda, are migrating for good.  

Project HOPE is working inside hospitals near the Colombia-Venezuela border to provide extra support to help health care workers meet the rise in need. Thanks to Project HOPE, Jorge Cristo Sahium Hospital has been able to hire multiple doctors, nurses, and gynecologists to provide essential maternal care for women before, during, and after delivery.   

We’re also donating the crucial medical equipment these hospitals need. On a sunny October morning, a truck pulls up outside Jorge Cristo Sahium, and inside it are brand new radiant infant warmers, fetal dopplers, cribs, scissors, and other vital medical supplies. The delivery is a relief to the hospital and a lifeline to the women who depend on it.  

man carries medical equipment into hospital
Project HOPE’s Diego Clavijo helps unload a truckload of new medical equipment to Hospital Jorge Cristo Sahium in Villa del Rosario, near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Donations of medical equipment have helped the hospital’s staff manage a surge in Venezuelan patients seeking care.
doctor checks baby in mother during ultrasound
Thanks to Project HOPE’s support, the staff at Hospital Jorge Cristo Sahium is able to provide essential prenatal care for Venezuelan women who travel to Colombia. The staff conducts prenatal checks, prescribes medicines and prenatal vitamins, and delivers the babies to their mothers when the time comes.
border signs between Venezuela and Colombia
One of the official crossings from Colombia to Venezuela. Though many Venezuelans cross the border daily to visit clinics or buy essential goods, more than 2 million have chosen to leave Venezuela and live in Colombia permanently.
a family standing at the Venezuela and Colombia border
Carmen, right, and her sister, Marisol, left, are both pregnant and from Venezuela. Each day, they cross the Simon Bolivar Bridge in Cúcuta to try and earn money by carrying goods back across the border for others.
a family gathering supplies
Carmen and Marisol have received help from CMDYM, a local organization Project HOPE supports, which provides maternal health resources and connects Venezuelan women to health care in Colombia.

Reaching pregnant women and mothers doesn’t just happen in hospital or clinic settings: it also means going where they are. In the small neighborhood of Villa del Rosario, not far from the Simon Bolivar Bridge, Project HOPE supports a local organization called Corporación Mujer, Denuncia y Muévete (Woman, Denounce and Move) that goes door-to-door to find Venezuelan women and bring them out of isolation to connect them to resources, care, and a community that will support them.  

CMDYM brings Venezuelan women together in prenatal workshops to teach them essential knowledge as they go down the road of pregnancy and delivery, covering topics like diet, breathing, healthy lifestyles, and what to expect each trimester. 

All of the women are Venezuelan, and many of them are as young as teenagers. For many of these women, being pregnant in Colombia is a difficult and lonely experience. In Colombia, CMDYM provides a community that helps them feel they’re not alone, in addition to providing the essential resources they need to stay safe and healthy while pregnant. 

When the time comes to deliver their babies, many of the women will do it in a local hospital Project HOPE supports.  

women walking around Colombian neighborhoods
CMDYM facilitators knock on a door in Villa del Rosario during neighborhood visits to find women who need support. Among the resources the organization provides are maternal health workshops that cover essential topics like nutrition and delivery.
a mother and child standing in a doorframe smiling to the camera
Esmé and her 2-year-old daughter, Anita, at their home in Villa del Rosario. As she prepares to deliver her second child, Esmé attends CMDYM workshops with other Venezuelan women who come together to learn essential maternal health information and get referrals to care.
profile of a woman in a blue dress
Carina, who is seven months pregnant, recently migrated to Colombia from Margarita Island, off the coast of Venezuela. It took traveling by boat, train, and various trucks to make it to Colombia, where she reunited with her husband who came first to find work. “There wasn’t enough money for food,” she says.
Mother sitting on armchair with her two young children
Carina was walking in her neighborhood when she saw representatives from CMDYM encouraging other pregnant women to sign up for maternal health classes. She attended her first session with more than 30 other women, where she learned about topics like prenatal nutrition and mental health.
a pregnant mother and her child looking out a window
Damaris and her daughter, Dani, at their home in Villa del Rosario. Damaris is one of hundreds of women in the area who have found support through CMDYM. “A lot of the girls don’t have an education,” says Yolanda, a CMDYM facilitator. “The majority of them live alone. They need a lot of support.”
a woman in pink camo and leopard print stands in front of a yellow wall that reads in Spanish
Maita, a Venezuelan refugee and volunteer with CMDYM, has personally found hundreds of Venezuelan mothers in Villa del Rosario and connected them to maternal health resources. “The women feel scared,” she says. “A lot of the girls are young, like 15 or 16. At the beginning, it’s hard to convince them to go. But when they start to see how they can get help, how they can get doctors’ appointments and vitamins, it’s easier.”

Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, in the heart of Cúcuta, is the city’s largest. The hospital provides comprehensive health care to Venezuelan migrants, including those who have crossed the border to have their children. About 80 percent of babies born here are to Venezuelan mothers—between 15 and 20 every day, or more than 5,000 a year.  

Many of the babies are born premature, especially those born to adolescent mothers. Many of the women who come to deliver have other health conditions or diseases that require longer-term hospitalization, which Erasmo Meoz provides at no cost. Newborns are vaccinated and attended to by doctors regardless of their parents’ nationality or immigration status. 

“We have been together with Project HOPE for many years now,” says Dr. Mario Galvis, a doctor at the hospital. “This hospital doesn’t discriminate. We don’t charge anything. We’re taking away the myth that Venezuelans are taking our resources.” 

a doctor in scrubs checks a woman sitting in a chair while a newborn baby sleeps on a hospital bed
Dr. Galvis visits with a new mother at Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, which delivers about 5,000 babies to Venezuelan mothers every year. “This hospital is open to anyone who needs medical attention,” he says.
nurse showing new mother how to nurse newborn
The global health worker shortage would have profound impacts in contexts like the Colombia-Venezuela border, where migrant and refugee women face disproportionate health risks. Photo by Marie Arago for Project HOPE, 2022.

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