Rekindling the Spark of an Immigrant: Young Venezuelans and Brazilians Build Dreams and Citizenship as a Team
With pride and humility, this talented young Venezuelan woman who is also a journalist, dancer and daughter, introduces herself. Eliezka is now also a member of Young Changemakers; one of the innovative programs funded by the BetterTogether Challenge in Brazil.
The decision and the path to leave Venezuela and migrate to Brazil were not easy for Eliezka. She recognizes that a migrant's life is hard, whether due to economic or social circumstances - although the two things often come together. The fact that migrants do not always know their destination adds a layer of uncertainty and difficulty when leaving their land. However, as Eliezka tells us, circumstances do not always leave other options. “I came to Brazil because I decided to do so. Was I forced to? No. I could have continued living in Venezuela. [But] in Venezuela no one can prosper, not at this moment ... [For this reason] in my head and in my heart I knew that I had to leave.”
Between August 2017 and 2019, nearly 500,000 Venezuelans crossed the border into Brazil, escaping harsh living conditions and lack of opportunities. In Brazil migrants believe they will have a new opportunity to improve their quality of life, access jobs and support their loved ones in Venezuela by sending remittances.
Eliezka made the journey with so many unanswered questions: “What now? What's Next? Where will I work? How am I going to live? Will there be a way to create community for me there?" And Eliezka was right to ask those questions. Most Venezuelan migrants in Brazil are in their 20s and 30s, and many are students. Once in Brazil, they have to navigate a new culture and language, as well as deal with the additional uncertainty of whether their academic qualifications will be recognized, as there is a complex accreditation process. Additionally, Venezuelans often face challenges obtaining legal documentation to work, making it difficult to integrate with young Brazilians.
Upon arriving in Brazil, Eliezka found resources and helping hands to rebuild her life "... Once inside this new land, it is necessary to plant seeds and take root, only then will we grow and bear fruit," she concluded.
One of the organizations that lent her a hand was the Terroá Institute, which runs the Young Changemakers Program, a BetterTogether Challenge awardee. Eliezka clearly remembers the day she joined the program. She received the information about the opportunity on a group chat, through a local health organization contact that works closely with the Terroá Institute. On October 20th, 2020, in the midst of a particularly difficult time due to the repercussions of the Coronavirus pandemic, Eliezka sent her application to participate in the program. She confesses that part of her hesitated, as other obligations and challenges overwhelmed her. But in the end, the optimism and resilience of this brave young woman persisted once again.
"But on the other hand, I said to myself: enough isolation, we are going to get together in that project, even if it is online, with people I trust are wonderful and have a lot to contribute to our society. I also have something to contribute,I just must learn the tools to do it.”
And she was right. Young Changemakers is a training program that focuses on development of socio-emotional, entrepreneurial, citizenship, and sustainability skills for both Brazilian and Venezuelan youth that will prepare them to better exercise their citizenship and have greater employability. The initiative sparks greater connections for Venezuelan migrant youth living in Brazil’s cities and communities, combining their organization’s mission with skills development and entrepreneurship training, as well as volunteerism, civic engagement and teamwork. Among the courses that are part of the program are: Integrating Entrepreneurship, Youth and Human Rights, Migration and Entrepreneurship, Youth and Sustainable Development in Latin America.
Eliezka and her cohort have taken the first few courses on integration, inclusion and citizenship, and a cohesive group of young Brazilians and Venezuelans is emerging. They are working passionately and learning how they can exercise change around them. In Eliezka’s words:
“The Young Changemakers Program helped rekindle that spark that had been extinguished in the midst of so much illness, hopelessness and loneliness. The best thing about this experience is being able to do that cultural exchange between Venezuelans and Brazilians, discovering that, although we have different origins, we are similar in our perception of the world, in our desire to fight and build a better society. That is what motivates me to continue in this project, the hope that we can change the world, make it a little fairer for everyone, together building the incredible ”.
Eliezka is one of 90 young people who participate in the Young Changemakers program, which already includes more than 200 young people in the cities of Brasilia, Manaus and São Paulo.
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Written by Alexandra Anda, USAID Catalyst Project at Resonance Global.