A Shared Dream: FFP, Minuto de Dios Join to Help Venezuelan Migrants, Lift the Poor in Colombia
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2019) On a recent visit, Minuto de Dios and Food For The Poor talked about a shared vision for how they can help Venezuelan migrants rebuild their lives in Colombia.
The two charities want to provide counseling and job skills training to Venezuelans who have fled to Colombia because of their home country's economic collapse.
An estimated 30,000 Venezuelans are entering Colombia every day, including about 5,000 in the border city of Cucuta.
"We have a very huge demand waiting to be satisfied. The poor come to Minuto de Dios every day looking for direction and help," said Dr. Alonso Ortiz, Executive Director of Minuto de Dios, a Colombian nonprofit organization. "We have talked to Food For The Poor to see what is the best way to assist the migrants."
Ortiz was among the key leaders of Minuto de Dios who recently visited Food For The Poor's Coconut Creek headquarters.
"We share a dream to lift people out of poverty, not just to give them something," said Food For The Poor Executive Vice President Ed Raine. "We are really dreaming big. This is exactly the right foundation, the right combination of partners to be able to do something quite extraordinary."
One example of that is Maria, a Venezuelan immigrant and mother of two children, who is running her own small business. She received a food cart to sell empanadas, fried potatoes and arepas.
Maria was a successful real estate agent in Venezuela before the country's economic crisis. As conditions spiraled downward, her husband left her and migrated to Ecuador.
With two young daughters to feed, Maria left them in the care of her sister while she walked and hitched rides for 15 days to get to Colombia. She struggled to earn enough money to send back to her sister and to save enough to bring her daughters to Colombia. She sold arepas from a coffee container but made very little money.
When she finally could return to get her daughters, she only had enough money to pay for the bus trip. They did not eat for 19 hours.
"My heart was swollen with longing and pain for my girls," she said. "The thought of getting my girls is what kept me going. Every day when I walked by the playground, I couldn't look or I would start crying. I felt hollow."
As part of Minuto de Dios' program, Maria received counseling and training in a community development center to assure her success.
"I felt depressed before I heard about the program. The program gave me hope," Maria said. "When you own your own business, you have pride."
Maria Ramirez, a psychologist with Minuto de Dios, said Maria's determination to be reunited with her daughters was a "resurrection."
"She is so resilient," Ramirez said. "The love of a mother, the value of her children – it's what helped her and made her push through."
About 80 percent of the businesses funded by Minuto de Dios have been successful, and staff credits that success to a strong focus on counseling, training and identifying and meeting needs in the marketplace.
A selection committee chooses businesses that have a high chance of thriving before a viable business plan is created. As part of the counseling, staff assesses each person's readiness to run their own micro-business. Workshops provide training for professions such as motorcycle repair or computer technology.
"In Colombia, we are in situations that are like the sharpest part of the knife, such as the border," said Fr. Camilo Bernal, Vice President of Minuto de Dios. "I really think Food For The Poor will be the best partner to help us find an answer that is authentic and genuine for families who are in need."
Last November, proceeds from Minuto de Dios' annual Banquet of the Million went toward programs to help the migrants. For 58 years, the Banquet of the Million has brought together Colombians at a humble dinner of bread and soup to raise funds for the poor.
Minuto de Dios' goal is to create 2,000 projects like the one Maria benefited from to help not only Venezuelan migrants, but Colombians in need as well.
"Their work is lifting the poor out of poverty by helping them land jobs, teaching valuable skills and providing them the equipment and tools to succeed," Raine said. "This is our shared vision."
For more 60 years, Minuto De Dios has been dedicated to providing counseling, job training and homes to poor families while empowering them to manage their own success and development. The organization got its name from one-minute radio spots, which later moved to TV, where Fr. Rafael García Herreros would discuss a specific religious topic for exactly one minute. The program has continued uninterrupted after his death in 1992. After 61 years, more than 13,000 segments have aired.
In addition to micro-enterprise development, Food For The Poor is teaming up with longtime partner Feed My Starving Children to ship 36 tractor-trailer loads of MannaPack rice meals over the next 18 months to feeding centers in Cucuta, serving more than 8,000 Venezuelan migrants daily. The Order of Malta is transporting and distributing the meals.
To help Venezuelan migrant families in Colombia, go to www.FoodForThePoor.org/crisis
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for orphaned or abandoned children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
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